Simitis gets his ‘strong mandate’

Prime Minister Costas Simitis was re-elected president of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) with a strong majority yesterday, a result that confirmed his domination of the party at a congress he had called six months ahead of schedule to stifle criticism of his policies. Simitis, the only candidate for the presidency at the 6th PASOK Congress, won 71.12 percent of the vote, or 4,316 of the 6,069 valid ballots cast. The rest of the valid votes were blank. We are very happy with the result, Deputy Labor Minister Christos Protopappas, a key Simitis aide, said. The counting of votes for the180-member Central Committee was expected to be completed late into the night, or even early today. The score improves on Simitis’s performance at the previous congress, in 1999, where he received 68.7 percent of the votes. Some analysts had predicted a higher score for Simitis after his main party rival, Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, had called on the party faithful to rally behind Simitis, late on Saturday. Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas differed: In his second speech (Saturday), Simitis did nothing to placate those who do not agree with his policies. He didn’t want to be re-elected with 85 or 90 percent. This would be a phony result. He wanted a clear mandate from people who agree with his policies, Reppas told Kathimerini’s English Edition. In his summing-up speech on Saturday night, Simitis directly challenged Tsochadzopoulos, reminding him that he had prevailed in two party congresses and two general elections in the past five years. I was surprised to hear that I asked for a blank check. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I didn’t need it in 1996 to lead the country to development and economic growth. I didn’t need it in 1999 to lead the country into the European Monetary Union and achieve the Helsinki results (where Turkey was conditionally accepted as an EU candidate). I didn’t need it to win the 1996 elections, when many forecast defeat, or the 2000 elections, when we were the first party to win three in a row… I refuse big talk, unfounded policies, a mishmash of thoughts, and introversion. As the delegates were about to vote late on Saturday, Tsochadzopoulos was invited by outgoing Secretary-General Costas Skandalidis to clarify a proposal he had made for the hiring of 20,000 specialists by local authorities. This was one of the three proposals made by Tsochadzopoulos and accepted by the Congress. Comrades, by voting on the totality of our political platform, with the present additions, I think that we have shaped up a political agreement… that confirms unity. It is a unity that binds us to mobilize together… for the totality of PASOK’s policies, with the leadership, with President Costas Simitis, in order to achieve victory once again, Tsochadzopoulos said, to frantic applause from almost all delegates. There were different explanations about this unexpected turn of events. One, offered by Simitis supporters, was that Tsochadzopoulos had capitulated. I think he was forced by the turn of events, said Babis Filios, a Central Committee candidate. In private, Skandalidis would only say that he had not been in negotiations with Tsochadzopoulos and had decided to call him on the spur of the moment. Tsochadzopoulos lieutenants, especially former minister Antonis Kotsakas, were saying that there was no contradiction with what Tsochadzopoulos had said on Friday, when he had refused what he called a blank check to Simitis and had called for a political agreement. If so, the political agreement rests on very little. But some hardline Tsochadzopoulos lieutenants, like Executive Bureau member Tonia Antoniou, appeared distinctly unhappy with his move. There were rumors that Simitis would proceed immediately with a Cabinet reshuffle, as early as tomorrow. This was officially denied. Everything will take place in the week after Ghent, Reppas said. Simitis will take part in an extraordinary EU summit on terrorism in Ghent, Belgium, on Friday and Saturday. A ‘new start’for reforms Addressing the congress to rapturous applause from delegates after the result of the vote for party president had been announced, Costas Simitis stressed that he saw this as support for his reformist policies. I thank you for the honor of re-electing me president of PASOK, he said. For acknowledging the work I have carried out so far, for your trust in me to continue to lead the effort of all of us to achieve our aims, for the clear and strong mandate you have given me, Simitis said. Greece has to deal with problems arising from our being behind the development levels of other countries, it has to deal with the challenges of a rapidly changing economic and technological environment, he said. And especially at this time it has the obligation to determine where it stands in relation to international developments that have changed international relations. He called on his party to show vision, strategy and unity and make a new start that will take us forward in achieving our aims, fulfilling the commitments stemming from the popular mandate of 2000, he said. A Greek delegation led by Prime Minister Costas Simitis attends an informal EU summit on terrorism in Ghent, Belgium. To Saturday.

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