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31° Nicosia,
18 July, 2019
 
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The new government, image and symbolism

Both sides should be given credit for the civilized political discourse

Athanasios Ellis

Athanasios Ellis

The first indications from the new government are sending out all the right signals. Tuesday’s handover ceremonies at the ministries confirmed a return to normalcy, after a decade-long crisis that painfully divided the country. Both sides should be given credit for the civilized political discourse that prevailed during the change of guard. It is hoped that this spirit will continue during the debates that are expected to take place in Parliament, not only in the sense of a more sophisticated rhetoric, but also, hopefully, in the approval of some government bills by the new main opposition.

Concerning the new government, it is obviously too early to make an assessment. Its work will be evaluated in due time. However, the objective observer will acknowledge that most of its members are knowledgeable and capable. Whether these attributes will translate into effectiveness is something that remains to be seen. Still, the first impression is positive. Although the number of ministers and deputies is large (we’ve been hearing about the need for a smaller cabinet for decades, now probably a pipe dream), in most cases they are seasoned politicians or promising younger individuals.

As far as the increased presence of non-elected officials is concerned – and although some people have expressed some valid reservations – I think it is useful to have people in the government who act without fear of the potential political cost.

Another positive move is the prime minister’s choice to bring in officials from other parties – something which is not unusual in other countries. In the United States, for example, it is considered an honor for the president to appoint a member of the opposition as a minister. In Greece, it results in the expulsion of that person from his party. Appointing a person of recognized standing who does not belong to the ruling party should be interpreted as recognition, not as looting on the part of the government or a betrayal from that minister. The examples in this case are, of course, ex-PASOK minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who was selected in the key role of citizens’ protection, as well as Lina Mendoni, an expert in culture.

The role of Kyriakos Pierrakakis as digital policy minister may prove to be the most challenging, as he will be called upon to change the way the Greek state operates. It may sound like an exaggeration but this is effectively what he will have to do.

I will not mention more names or specific roles and abilities of the new government’s members – they will all be judged in due course. However, I must mention the great importance of the role of deputy prime minister being held by former premier Panagiotis Pikrammenos: a moderate man and a well-respected judge and former head of the Council of State. Efforts to smear his name by connecting it to the alleged bribery case involving Swiss drugmaker Novartis was a serious mistake and his presence in the government has clear symbolism.

The government’s organizational chart shows that, on a practical level, a large number of individual actions will be handled by the deputy ministers who will be in direct coordination with the prime minister and his close associates through a new model of governance. Everyone will be judged. Both the older and the younger cabinet members, many of whom have experience from living abroad, will have to prove their abilities and bring results. This is the big test for them, for the new government and, above all, for the country.

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