Greece is now casting around for a new Representative to the IMF (Executive Director) following the announcement June 1 that former nominee Elena Panaritis is withdrawing her candidacy for the position after a weekend of intensely negative reaction in SYRIZA’s ranks. From a statement she issued Monday: “I did not ask for this position and given that I accepted it only because I felt that I could help the government with my experience of how the IMF works, it is impossible for me to accept the appointment when there is a negative reaction from SYRIZA MPs and members.”
Just a few points need to be made. Ms. Panaritis was clearly one of Greece’s most qualified potential candidates for this slot. Her knowledge of that rare dialect spoken at International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and IMF was unmatched. If another dozen Greek citizens could be found with expertise at roughly equivalent levels, they would likely have served in those institutions previously. It is doubtful other candidates would have had anything close to her wide background in structural reform issues.
So why was such a knowledgeable and media-savvy candidate a problem for so many in SYRIZA? First, as a World Bank economist notably having led property rights reform in Peru, she could speak the language of reform, not the language of “reform rollback” that most SYRIZA officials sincerely believe they are elected to oversee. So she was instantly in conflict with the core values of the government she would have been sent to represent. Second, as a nominee of Finance Minister Varoufakis, she was automatically suspect by all those who mistrust him. Finally, as an economist who had served both the current SYRIZA government (most recently in the Brussels Group) and in George Papandreou’s government (MP at-large), she was clearly seen as an outsider (similar to Varoufakis) and probably fatally, as a “Memorandum supporter.” Clearly, “structural reform” remains a dirty word in Greece, unless spoken in that special Syrizan-dialect that does not include the words “cutback,” “performance” or “fiscal restraint.”
This turn of events also further indicates the dysfunction of SYRIZA as a cohesive political party. Cobbled together from a myriad set of alliances, smaller political Marxist-oriented parties, and disaffected Socialists, SYRIZA was only recently judicially recognized to have standing in national elections as a political party. In coming to terms with SYRIZA, one must understand that this is a political party that is unable to speak with one voice.