PASOK aiming for March 18 vote, without Papandreou says spokesman

PASOK is due to hold elections for a new leader on March 18 and officials close to current party chief George Papandreou insist that he has no intention in taking part in the contest.

The Socialist party?s political council met on Wednesday to discuss the process for electing a new leader after Papandreou gave the green light for the vote. In keeping with PASOK?s charter, it was decided that a congress would be held between March 2 and 4. The national council is due to meet a week later in order to finalize the list of candidates and the vote is seen taking place a week later on Sunday, March 18.

The rubber-stamping of this process means that it will not be possible for more than two or three candidates to stand in the elections as they will need the support of at least 105 members of the 400-member political council.

PASOK spokesman Panos Beglitis, a close associate of Papandreou, insisted that despite speculation, the ex-premier intends to keep his word and stay out of the contest. ?Mr Papandreou told the political council very clearly that he will not be a candidate for party president or prime minister,? said Beglitis.

However, doubts persist within the party as to whether PASOK will be able to keep to this timetable given that it will depend on whether the interim government has completed its negotiations with the European Union and International Monetary Fund on Greece?s next bailout and when parliamentary elections will be held.

?I do not see how we will have an election process in PASOK in March since we will go straight to elections after agreeing the new loan,? said Agriculture Minister Costas Skandalidis.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is thought to favor a less complicated election process, which would involve the members of PASOK?s parliamentary group voting for the party?s new leader. This would give the party greater flexibility, those in the Venizelos camp argue.

Wednesday?s political council also led to the creation of two committees. One will assess the party?s record during its two years in power and the other will form a policy program for the next elections.

The committees are due to conclude their work within 10 days.

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