Daniel Howden: Victory demonstrates that Greek politics is stagnant

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The Independent Online

When a party leader with every possible advantage staggers to victory at the third time of asking, trailing two election defeats in his wake, it's clear that politics have stagnated in Greece. George Papandreou has finally succeeded in following his father and grandfather in becoming prime minister but it's an empty victory that will be met with little enthusiasm.

The seeds of conservative Costas Karamanlis' defeat: corruption, incompetence, timidity and a sickly economy are nearly identical to the factors that spurred him to power five years ago. Then he was ousting the ruling socialists whose cronyism and inefficiency after more than a decade and a half in power he was supposed to purge.

Greece's two political tribes, Pasok and New Democracy, have emerged as bankrupt both in terms of their ideas and credibility in a muted election campaign that has done nothing to excite a disenchanted public.

Not even the high stakes gamble of a snap election midway through his second term and a sudden bout of truth-telling in which Mr Karamanlis warned of austere times ahead could reignite interest.

Instead the quietly-spoken Mr Papandreou has won by default. His greatest challenge has been to retain the leadership of his own party, a coup achieved largely by being less unpleasant than the colleagues that moved against him.

Greece will finally get to see whether the former foreign minister whom they have never found convincing as a leader can surprise them. He has many admirers abroad where his US-educated English and Scandinavian social democratic politics have afforded him disproportionate status.

However, with public finances in an appalling state and Greece's exports and service sector as stagnant as its politics, he has almost no room for manoeuvre.

The underlying cause of the violence and riots that rocked Greece have not gone away and few of those involved will be persuaded to drop their nihilistic approach by yesterday's result.

The improved performance of smaller parties such as the greens and the neo-fascist LAOS highlight the desire for a scapegoat to explain the falling standard of living, and a belated realisation that development has come at an almighty cost to the country's extraordinary natural wealth. Unless Mr Papandreou can reach out to the progressives beyond the boundaries of Pasok and reinvigorate national politics the large army of the disaffected could paralyse the country once more.