PASOK rifts on show

The second day of the 6th Congress of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) was taken up by speeches from some of the 6,353 delegates, including Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, the head of the hardline Socialists opposed to reformist party leader and Prime Minister Costas Simitis. What was evident from the speeches is the deepening chasm between modernizers and traditionalists within the party, held together more by the lure of power and less by their common purpose. In an impassioned speech that sometimes bordered on the emotional and was short on specifics, Tsochadzopoulos nevertheless sent a couple of clear messages. One was that he refused to give Simitis a blank check to lead the party and the government. The second was that the government’s present policies would inevitably lead to electoral defeat. No one is thinking, nor has the right to, to hand over a blank political check on the handling of policies, Tsochadzopoulos said, replying to Simitis’s call for a clear mandate. There has long been speculation that Simitis’s rivals within the party would repeat the tactic of the blank ballot they followed in the vote for leader at the last congress, in 1999. This time around, Simitis’s supporters have been trying their best to rob this tactic of its legitimacy, challenging their opponents to come up with an alternative candidate. Tsochadzopoulos has not offered himself as a candidate. He intimated in his speech that his supporters would only vote for Simitis if agreement was reached on the policy platform votes, to be held today. Tsochadzopoulos was cheered loudly by an assortment of friendly delegates, youth members and plenty of uninvited guests. The majority of the delegates, however, remained stone-faced, even when Tsochadzopoulos spoke about the need for party unity. Former minister Theodoros Pangalos, who has recently rejoined the ranks of Simitis supporters, replied directly to Tsochadzopoulos, saying that Costas Simitis never asked for a blank check. He and several other pro-reform speakers challenged their rivals to come up with concrete policy alternatives. Today, Simitis is expected to reply to Tsochadzopoulos, ahead of the votes on the political platform. On Sunday, the final day of the congress, the delegates will vote for party president and the Central Committee. The competition between the two sides, each of which wants to increase its representation, is fierce. Simitis and his friends and allies hold 106 of the 180 seats in the outgoing Central Committee. An Athens court yesterday subpoenaed a police officer to testify at the trial of Avraam Lesperoglou, who is charged with involvement in the murder of public prosecutor Giorgos Theofanopoulos in 1985 and a number of terrorist acts. Officer Gretsitsas received an anonymous call shortly after the murder from a person who allegedly gave descriptions of Theofanopoulos’s killers.

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