NEWS

Simitis demands ‘clear mandate’

Five years and four months after securing the leadership of the ruling Panhellenic Social Movement (PASOK), Prime Minister Costas Simitis has decided that he can no longer share the party leadership with party barons and asked for a clear mandate, free of restrictions and conditions. Today, as never before, is the time for us to adopt a clear position. That’s why I ask for a clear mandate, a clear answer to evasions and denials that dare not speak their name. I ask for a strong mandate, Simitis told the 6,353 party delegates to the 6th PASOK Congress, which opened yesterday at Athens’s Olympic Stadium. PASOK is not a party of officials; we will not allow this tug-of-war of personal antagonisms, covered under the guise of critical skepticism, to undermine our progress, he added. Buffeted by opposition to his reformist policies and criticism from inside the party, Simitis decided in June to advance the congress from March 2002 to October 2001. He had to threaten resignation in order to convince the party’s Executive Bureau to go along. Since then, Simitis’s image, along with the government’s, has improved somewhat, although PASOK trails conservative opposition New Democracy in opinion polls. The recent terrorist attacks on the USA and need for security measures are expected to strengthen the government’s hand further and to stifle criticism of Simitis at the Congress. A clear and strong mandate would include Simitis’s re-election as PASOK president with a higher percentage than the 64.7 percent he achieved at the last Congress, in 1999. Moreover, he wants a stronger majority in the Central Committee, where his supporters and allies currently hold 106 of the 180 seats. In his peroration, Simitis set three main goals for the party: Victory in the local government elections (in October 2002); a successful EU presidency in (the first half of) 2003; victory (at the national elections) in 2004. Simitis duly reminded his comrades that the adversary is not in this room. It is among the opposition. It is the Right. He attacked conservative opposition New Democracy as a party of boundless and persistent opportunism incapable of developing a modern and reliable political agenda. He also attacked the scaremongers who would have people believe that Greece faces insurmountable problems and that national disasters lurk just around the corner. New Democracy retorted that at this critical time Simitis was acting like a petty political leader and not a prime minister. The main body of Simitis’s speech, the outline of his policies, presented no surprises, since he tends to repeat his positions in his public speeches. He insisted he would continue his reformist policies. To his hardline socialist opponents, who want an expanded welfare state, he conceded that, at times, the government did not take into account the working people’s views but offered no concrete concessions, only a declaration that we are for a market economy, not a market society. He also said that social policies are possible only with a strong economy, not with borrowing. Voting on particular political positions will take place on Saturday. On Sunday, the last day of the Congress, the delegates will vote for the post of party president and membership of the Central Committee. PASOK gives Arafat a hero’s welcome Yasser Arafat, in Athens yesterday, said that his people stood firm and united in their condemnation of terrorism, with greater cooperation between all countries. The president of the Palestinian Authority was given a standing ovation by delegates at the 6th Congress of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist movement (PASOK) yesterday and he also met with President Costis Stephanopoulos and Prime Minister Costas Simitis. Arafat, always a welcome guest at PASOK congresses, received the biggest of several ovations when he stated that an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, would name a central square after the late PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou. Arafat recalled the historic ties of the Palestinian Liberation Organization with PASOK and Greece, recalling how my dear friend Papandreou welcomed him, a refugee from Lebanese shores after the Israeli invasion in 1982. He thanked Greece for its steadfast support for a just solution to the Middle East issues, including at the latest European Union council in June. Arafat attacked Israel several times in his speech, saying he and his people were subjected to the worst form of terrorism – foreign occupation and denial of their fundamental rights. He praised the late former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, calling him courageous for entering into talks with the PLO and concluding a peace agreement with it, before falling victim to a Jewish fanatic in 1995. Arafat added that, despite repeated Israeli refusals to hold talks, the Palestinians’ invitation for peace talks and a final settlement remained open. Condemning international terrorist actions, Arafat thanked US President George W. Bush for his recent statement that a Palestinian state was among US policy objectives, and called on the US, the European Union and Russia to cooperate and press for a quick solution to the Middle East crisis.