Papandreou faces task of pulling PASOK back together

PASOK leader George Papandreou faces a major challenge to create unity within his party, which some top officials think might not get to the snap general elections slated for April in one piece.

Papandreou returned on Wednesday from Costa Rica, where he had been taking part in a Socialist International meeting, to find a party in disarray. Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis?s admission that he did not read Greece?s loan deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, jostling between potential candidates for the party leadership and a rebellion by some PASOK MPs during a vote on structural reforms this week created the sense that the Socialists are drifting.

Some within the party are debating the option of removing Papandreou from his role as party president before the leadership election due to take place in late March or early April and in which party members across the country are set to vote. This could be done by MPs calling for a vote of confidence among the party?s parliamentary group. If Papandreou fails to secure the majority of support, he would have to stand down and lawmakers could elect a new leader.

?The country is entering its most crucial phase but at PASOK, we are fiddling,? said former Justice Minister Haris Kastanidis, who admitted that Papandreou was not fulfilling his role properly.

?I do not know if we will get to the next elections as a united PASOK,? said Deputy Interior Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos. An opinion poll by VPRC on Wednesday ranked the Socialists as only the fifth most popular party.

In a further sign of rifts at the highest level of the party, Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos made barbed comments about the stance taken by Chrysochoidis, who has also been critical of PASOK?s policies while in government.

Papandreou is also waiting to see if Parliament will be asked to investigate whether he should face charges in connection to allegations that Greece?s 2009 deficit figure was artificially inflated. PASOK spokesman Panos Beglitis, who is a close ally of Papandreou, suggested that any parliamentary probe into fiscal data should stretch back to 2000.

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