Greek leader loses popular support in effort to `be all things to all people'
Six months after a big reelection triumph, the popularity of Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's socialist government has plummetted to an all-time low. The latest poll by the Greek public opinion organization, Eurodim, places socialist support at 32 percent, down from the 46 percent the party received after June's election.
During last spring's campaign, the prime minister presented himself as a candidate of stability and promised imminent economic recovery. Party posters assured Greeks that a vote for him and his Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) was a vote for ``even better days.''
But better days are not in sight, and uncertainty has descended on the country. Although Papandreou has a solid majority in Parliament, he is more vulnerable now than at any time since his election in October 1981, analysts say.
The immediate cause of the prime minister's troubles are clear. Faced with acute domestic economic problems, a huge balance-of-payments deficit, and a looming foreign-debt-repayment crisis, Papandreou imposed harsh austerity measures in mid-October.
``In 1981, the Greek people voted for change,'' says Panayote Dimitras, a political analyst and director of Eurodim. ``In 1985 they voted for an improvement of the economy, which Papandreou promised them. Now they feel betrayed.''
As part of Papandreou's general shift toward the right, he has initiated a rapprochement with the US and the European Community (EC). He seems to be moving away from his pledge to close down US bases on Greek territory after the current agreement expires in 1988.
Greece gets $500 million a year from the US, partly in compensation for the bases. In November, the EC granted Athens a $1.47 billion loan in exchange for a promise to adhere strictly to its austerity package and to implement community regulations more faithfully.
The left accuses Papandreou of caving in to the US and the International Monetary Fund. Centrists charge that he lied about the country's real problems during the last four years and question whether his mercurial foreign and domestic posturing of the first term were worth what must now be paid. The right feels vindicated. It has renewed its attack against the government.
Since June, a number of terrorist bombings, two hijackings originating from Athens airport, and two days of violent clashes between rampaging anarchists and riot police in the streets of Athens have added to the government's woes.
But foreign diplomatic and Greek political observers here say that these are mere symptoms of what has eroded Papandreou's support. The causes are the state of the economy and the belief that Papandreou has misled the Greek people.
``Papandreou made his fundamental mistake as soon as he took power,'' says center-right political columnist Kostas Kalligas, ``when he chose to govern as a populist instead of tackling the country's problems with pragmatic policies.''
Foreign and Greek political analysts, and even some members of Pasok, agree with that view. They assert that, by adopting a radical, rhetorical approach to the country's domestic and foreign policy problems while doing little or nothing to solve them, the prime minister was able to be all things to all people without irreparably alienating any part of his constituency. Meanwhile, the standard of living was maintained, in some cases enhanced, through government spending and massive foreign bo rrowing.
That way, Papandreou was able to sustain his popularity without imposing the necessary discipline of government on his party and supporters. Pasok has been in a turmoil since the austerity package was announced. Several left-wing members of the party resigned. Another factor contributing to Papandreou's decline is the view that his policies have made the country more, not less, dependent on the outside world.
But, despite all these troubles, no one is ready to write Papandreou off.
``The Greek people feel deceived by the prime minister,'' points out Dimitras, ``but there is nevertheless no sign that the opposition has benefited.''
Greek observers say they do not expect a major challenge to the prime minister's authority for the time being. The first real test is expected in October 1986, with municipal elections. If the socialists do very badly, left-wingers in Pasok will gain strength and can be expected to put severe pressure on Papandreou to alter his course once again or step aside.