NEWS

Papandreou under pressure to start PASOK race

PASOK heavyweights put pressure on party chief George Papandreou to begin a leadership race during Tueday?s meeting of the Socialists? political council, with some arguing that a new president should be in place by next month.

During a meeting that went on late into the night, Papandreou remained equivocal about his future at the helm of the party but a number of senior ministers made it clear that they would not accept him attempting to hold on to power without initiating a contest.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that PASOK should elected a new leader by January 15. He suggested that general elections would be held after Easter, which is on April 15. Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou went as far as arguing that PASOK might have to be dismantled and rebuilt in order to attract support from the left and center.

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis also ratcheted up the pressure on Papandreou to either stand aside or to start a leadership contest.

?It does not befit PASOK to take a tentative step into the unknown,? said Chrysochoidis, who reminded Papandreou that he had stated on many occasions when he was prime minister that he was not in politics simply for the glory and power of the ?chair.?

Despite some calls for a meeting of PASOK?s national council to be called so the process of electing a new leader could begin, Papandreou only committed to reconvening the national council in January.

Earlier, he had met with interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos. During the talks, Papandreou is said to have told his successor that he would not object to the coalition government remaining in place until after Easter. It is thought that the PASOK leader would also accept a possible reshuffle of Papademos?s cabinet.

New Democracy spokesman Yiannis Michelakis indicated that the conservatives would be willing to accept the original election date of February 19 being extended but that going to the polls after Easter was not on ND?s agenda. He said the key to when elections will be held is the ongoing negotiations between the Greek government and its bondholders over a haircut, or public sector involvement (PSI), as it is also known.

?Any change to the agreed date of February 19 depends on the PSI but it is clear that nobody is talking about after Easter,? he said.