In 2004 in Boston, the Democratic party nominated old hand John Kerry for President but it was a young US Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama who made the biggest impression with his speech and staked his claim.
Greece’s Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 46, a graduate of Harvard and with an MBA there and another from Stanford in International Economics, has similarly made his move in the New Democracy Conservatives, outflanking its leader, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
The Premier has been holding onto the unlikely hope he could woo some of the, ahem, less crazy voters supporting the cuckoo neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, first by coddling the extremists and now by trying to dismantle them by prosecution on charges of running a criminal gang.
Either way, he figured, New Democracy – whose support for harsh austerity measures demanded by international lenders have seen it fall behind the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in polls – would get more far right-wing voters.
That’s exactly what it doesn’t need because they come with the kind of zany beliefs that polarize a country, not bring it together. Samaras, who gave his ear to the whacky Golden Dawn supporter Panayiotis Baltakos as a chief adviser, can’t see that.
But Mitsotakis can, and his call for the party to become more centrist is its hope for the next scheduled elections in 2016, or snap elections before that.
He has the right pedigree in education and as the son of former premier Konstantinos Mitsotakis. His sister is Dora Bakoyianni, now a New Democracy back bencher but who – until Samaras blindsided her as he did to her father 20 years ago – was destined to lead the party and had a real shot at becoming Prime Minister.
Baltakos, who Samaras was forced to eject after the former Cabinet Secretary was seen in a video tape cozying up to Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris who’s facing multiple criminal charges, is still pushing his crusade for the two parties to form a coalition.
Ex-cabinet secretary and prime-ministerial advisers Baltakos says he is not poised to form his own party but believes New Democracy should be doing more to attract right-wing voters.
Noting Golden Dawn’s third-place standing in polls and strong support in European Parliament elections for the far-right, Baltakos said, “If someone could wave a magic wand and transfer this support to New Democracy, it would have 39 percent, which would be enough to form a government on its own.” He didn’t mention nearly half of it would want to end democracy.
Samaras gave Mitsotakis the second most thankless job behind Finance Minister, plunking him down in a post which required overseeing the firing of scores of thousands of public workers.
Mitsotakis has a mixed report card in that task. He promised reviews for every worker before they’d be transferred or fired but didn’t do it.
He didn’t go after high-paid do-nothing Parliament workers who, with the threat of a strike, cowed Samaras into backing down on a promise to put them under more of the austerity measures he dumped on workers without political protection and Mitsotakis has gone along with it.
When Metro and port workers went on strike, Samaras issued civil mobilization orders to get them back to work under the threat of being fired or arrest but he let the Parliament workers kick his butt all over the building.
Sensing that New Democracy will buckle for its unrelenting support of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings Mitsotakis somehow wants to find an escape.
The only direction, he said, is the center. He is opposed to Samaras bringing back former members from what Mitsotakis tabbed as “populist groups.”
That’s a shot at the far-right LAOS nationalists who are now out of power but whose leader Giorgos Karatzaferis – booted out of New Democracy, now says he wants to join it with a coalition to keep SYRIZA out of power.
That’s just a thin cover for Karatzaferis to come back to power although he has to swallow his disgust for two of his former members, Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, who bolted LAOS to join New Democracy and were rewarded with plum posts although they’re just shy of Golden Dawn territory or needing strait jackets.
Mitsotakis told Mega TV that he was not willing to sit on the same parliamentary benches as politicians who had called him a fascist in previous years and said Samaras should look to the center ground.
“This is where the truly creative forces of Greek society are to be found,” said Mitsotakis. “These are the forces that will get the country out of the crisis and they come mainly from the private sector but include very capable public servants.
“I believe that as Greece’s main center-right party New Democracy should address these people, primarily through its political discourse and its actions,” he said. Looks like New Democracy might have found its Obama.