Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos assumed the leadership of Socialist PASOK on Sunday in a one-man election that attracted stronger-than-expected support for the beleaguered party ahead of looming snap polls, expected in late April or early May.
Based on an initial count of 25 percent of the vote, more than 200,000 members and supporters of PASOK visited thousands of polling stations across the country to cast their vote for the Socialist heavyweight, party officials said.
The turnout was double what party officials had said would be satisfactory and included the votes of several MPs expelled from PASOK for voting against Greece?s latest loan deal with foreign creditors. Milena Apostolaki and Vasso Papandreou were among the returning dissenters while the former deputy foreign minister, Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou, who resigned last month in protest at the tough terms included in the bailout, also cast her vote for Venizelos.
In a televised speech delivered shortly after ballots closed Sunday evening, Venizelos described the election as ?a successful exercise in political readiness,? and pledged to spearhead ?a collective effort? to lead his party to ?rebirth? and help Greece emerge from a deepening debt crisis.
Acknowledging the ?discontent and bitterness? of austerity-weary Greeks, Venizelos sought to offer a glimmer of hope for the future.?Already our country is at that crucial stage between the crisis and the now-palpable prospects for emerging from it,? he said.
Venizelos takes over from former Premier George Papandreou, whom he had challenged for the party leadership unsuccessfully in 2007.
The minister is expected to formally take over from Papandreou as party leader on Monday and give up his ministry post immediately afterwards. It remained unclear who would succeed him at the helm of the country?s most crucial ministry, with some suggesting that it would be his deputy Filippos Sachinidis and others believing that Prime Minister Lucas Papademos will take over, following the example of his Italian counterpart, Mario Monti.
Late Sunday, Papademos?s office issued a statement saying that Venizelos is to meet the premier at 1 p.m. on Monday.