PASOK in turmoil as Venizelos tries to quell rebellion

PASOK has plunged into turmoil as one MP and a prominent official quit the party following a fractious vote on the government?s privatization bill on Wednesday.

The draft law paving the way for the sell-off of a number of utilities and ports passed narrowly and the failure of 17 PASOK MPs to support the legislation led to party leader Evangelos Venizelos, who failed to take part in the vote himself, calling an urgent meeting with his 33 lawmakers on Wednesday evening.

Journalists were barred from the talks but the angry exchanges between party members spilled out into the street.

?Today in Parliament, we were like a lost herd,? said Cretan MP Nikos Sifounakis. ?If we continue like this, the measures won?t pass. The government and PASOK will collapse.?

Following the meeting, MP Michalis Kassis said he was quitting the party but remaining in Parliament as an independent MP. He said Venizelos left him with no choice as he told deputies that whoever fails to vote for the upcoming fiscal and structural measures would be ejected from the party.

Kassis accused some of his colleagues of only supporting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and the coalition government because they want to become ministers.

He also told journalists that several more PASOK MPs intend to vote against the austerity package in Parliament. The vote is likely to take place next week. The three-party government had 177 out of 300 seats after already losing one MP from New Democracy and another from Democratic Left, which insists it will not support the latest package unless the troika backs down over labor reforms. It now has 176 seats.

Former Agriculture Minister and once a candidate for the PASOK leadership, Kostas Skandalidis reportedly clashed with Venizelos over his handling of the party and refused afterwards to dismiss suggestions that there might be a challenge mounted against the party president.

On Thursday, former minister and PASOK secretary Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou announced she was quitting the party.

In a letter to Venizelos, the 49-year-old former health minister said she was quitting PASOK in protest at the anticipated austerity measures and developments inside the party which was recently polled in sixth place.

Xenogiannakopoulou failed to win a parliamentary seat in the last general elections.