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Venizelos elected new PASOK chief, set to quit as FinMin [update]

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was expected to meet with Greece's premier on Monday to tender his resignation from the post following his election as PASOK chief on Sunday.

More than 230,000 Socialist party supporters flocked to polling stations -- set up in city halls, cafes, even gas stations -- across the country on Sunday to cast a vote for Venizelos, 55, who ran unopposed in the leadership race after other contenders failed to qualify for the race.

With 50.78 percent of the polling stations counted, Venizelos gathered 97.29 percent of the vote or 115,348 votes, party officials said. A 1,434 blank and 697 spoilt ballots were counted.

Final results were expected later on Monday.

In a meeting with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias earlier in the day, Venizelos heralded the result as evidence of PASOK's political come-back.

“The party proved that its soul is alive,” he said.

After the meeting with Papoulias, Venizelos told journalists: «We have elections ahead and I had this morning the opportunity in a farewell meeting at the finance ministry to give my last instructions.»

He is expected to tender his resignation as finance minister to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos later in the day. Papademos, leader of Greece's crisis coalition government, is widely expected to take over. George Papandreou is set to formally hand over the leadership of the Socialist party at 3 p.m. Venizelos mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Papandreou for the party leadership in 2007.

Sunday's turnout was double what party officials had said would be satisfactory and included the votes of several deputies ousted 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.

However, Venizelos's victory was marred by allegations of vote-rigging across the country. Stefanos Tzoumakas, a former PASOK lawmaker who failed to attract adequate backing to run for the party's top post, late Sunday made a statement condemning what he said was an “unprecedented and extensive election fraud across the country.”

A large number of polling stations, Tzoumakas alleged, did not provide blank ballots or envelopes criticizing organizers for “a clear violation of confidentiality rules.”

Under Venizelos, PASOK will have a lot of ground to claw back. The most recent survey put the Socialists in fifth place with the support of 11 percent of respondents, far behind New Democracy conservatives who gathered 25 percent. A general election is expected in late April or early May.

ekathimerini.com , Monday March 19, 2012 (13:52)  
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