PM strives to introduce changes

Prime Minister Costas Simitis aims to make sweeping changes in the government and the ruling PASOK party in early July. PASOK is sliding into crisis, as was evident at the EU summit in Thessaloniki, where internal party problems overshadowed European issues. Leading party officials seem deeply concerned about the government’s image and note the need for radical initiatives, but they have no idea which direction the premier will take. However, they do agree that after what was tantamount to the expulsion of State Minister Stefanos Manikas and PASOK Executive Bureau member Michalis Neonakis [following revelations about the extent of their bourse activities], Simitis now has a free hand as far any major upheavals in the government or the party are concerned, provided that such changes do not affect party General Secretary Costas Laliotis. Executive Bureau The prime minister has definitely decided to reorganize PASOK’s Executive Bureau. This is a far from simple proceeding, as he has to secure the resignations of the present members, which include nearly all the party barons. And he also has to get the bureau to vote for his proposal. Sources say that Simitis will not only undertake the risk but also plans to adopt the principle of whole or partial incompatibility between membership in the government and on the Executive Bureau. In fact, there has already been vigorous discussion about the participation of certain officials, such as Nikos Salayiannis and Dimitris Thanos, in the new Executive Bureau, while leading party cadres, such as Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, seem willing to make matters easier for the premier by choosing between the government and the party. There is widespread perception that the premier is also aiming for major changes at government level. For the first time, in fact, some of Simitis’s close colleagues have not ruled out the likelihood of the premier’s adopting Socrates Cosmidis’s proposal for a radical reduction in the number of ministers. The same sources say that, apart from effectiveness, the basic criterion for government ministers in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle will be their public image, as the prime minister cannot risk a repetition of the Neonakis case in the runup to the next election. The only Cabinet ministers currently thought to be unmovable are Nikos Christodoulakis (Economy), Vasso Papandreou (Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works), Evangelos Venizelos (Culture), Dimitris Reppas (Labor), Michalis Chrysochoidis (Public Order) and George Papandreou (Foreign Affairs). Fears have been expressed that the initiatives planned by the prime minister have been undermined to a great extent by awkward media management on the sidelines of the European summit in Thessaloniki. Friday evening almost saw an open breach in relations between the government and the party, when a leak from Government Spokesman Christos Protopappas, on the premier’s orders, that «Simitis himself will decide what action to take,» was interpreted as an answer to an earlier statement by PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis, declaring that talk of his resigning from the post of party secretary was «a midsummer night’s dream.» Some sources, which PASOK headquarters have not confirmed, say Laliotis contacted Simitis and after a rather difficult discussion extracted another statement, this time from Telemachos Hytiris, deputy government spokesman, who made it clear that that there was no question of changing the party secretary or convening any extraordinary party congress. What intervened between the statements by Protopappas and Hytiris highlights the problematic nature of Laliotis’s relations with Maximos Mansion over the past two months, as well as the problems arising from the parallel actions of Protopappas and Hytiris. Laliotis appears to be extremely annoyed by the rumors of a change of guard in the secretary’s post, and believes them to have been started by certain people who are close to the premier and by Chrysochoidis. Simitis’s promise that there will not be any changes at the top of the party seems, at least for the present, to close that front. But the question of the government’s media performance is unresolved. As a result of bad management, the summit meeting was overshadowed by internal PASOK matters, which greatly displeased the prime minister and left Protopappas exposed on several fronts. Many observers believe that Simitis holds him largely to blame for the irregular situation in Halkidiki.

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