Of Party Conferences in a Greek context

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Party Conferences (or Conventions, or Congresses: it depends on where you are) are significant or quaint events (it depends on the prevailing character of the struggle for political power prevailing in a given country at a given time) that are always fun to watch and – at times – useful to ponder over.

It so happens that in today’s Greece – with a political system prone to squabbling and with the economy (and society) still reeling under the drain of some 25% of GDP due to one decade of successive Stabilisation Programmes, with the shock of the coronavirus pandemic and now the energy impasse to follow – all three major political parties are immersed in Conference business.

All three of them – ruling Right/Centre-Right N.D., former radical-Left, presently seeking Centre-Left bearings SYRIZA, vacillating around the Centre PASOK/KINAL – swear that by Programme-writing, they will face the mounting challenges the country and its people (meaning: voters) are faced with.

The usual issue of choosing leaders has been put behind all three: ND has s Government to run and current PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis has ample patronage to dispense, so it would be unwise to even drop a hint of further leadership choises in the visible future (notwithstanding the fact that N.D. houses quite disparate elements, under important chieftains).

SYRIZA will hold a leadership vote open to all party members (a novelty for them, since up to now the leadership was designated through carefully orchestrated processes), but no candidates further to former PM Alexis Tsipras are expected to stand.

PASOK/KINAL has just held a contest – a bitter one, to speak with a measure of honesty – whereby party members and sympathisers elected current leader Nikos Androulakis, a MEP who has the disadvantage of not holding office in Greece proper.

So, going back to the Programme-writing ritual, much effort is given by all three parties – and their respective think tanks and media support teams – to combine some measure of technocratic credibility (the terms of “quantified” and “price-tagged” crop up ever so often when policy options are proposed) with an easily-accessible whiff of ideological background.

For the smaller contestant in the fray, formerly dominant in Gteek politics PASOK which now has to fight to determine the very name it will be known by, the challenge is to shed the suspicion of being too close to N.D., with which it used to run the country under the (infamous for much of the electorate) Stabilitation Programmes era.

For SYRIZA, the torment resides in trying to distance itself from its radical leftist past, along with the memory of having submitted to the pressures of the last lap of Stabilisation efforts, without losing the support of its own left-wingers.

While for the Right/Centre-Right N.D. catering to old Right-wing reflexes, nationalist and traditionalist, while keeping on board modernisers of some liberal colouring, can be quite a task. Just yesterday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis caused some ripples by throwing a rock to the pond – that is, by claiming that the country should be “governed at the Centre”. (Some weeks ago, he even toyed with the idea of leaving behind the totemic N.D. belief in one-party governance, opting instead for an approach of efficience-seeking governance, even using the toolbox of the much-feared coalition-building). One more tight turn for the ruling party, whose earlier leader Antonis Samaras pontificated at the Conference’s closing that N.D. as a party cannot cover all political tribes; he concluded that “the Centre-Right cannot exist without the Right”.