A new wind blows into PASOK

Seven years after taking over its leadership, and 10 months before elections must be held, Prime Minister Costas Simitis finally began to recreate the ruling PASOK party in his own image. His candidate for general secretary, Michalis Chrysochoidis, was elected yesterday by a wider margin than anyone had expected, winning 118 votes among 177 cast by members of the Central Committee. There were 50 blank ballots and 9 invalid papers. The way Simitis maneuvered Costas Laliotis out of the position of general secretary was the most dramatic development in the Panhellenic Socialist Movement since the outsider Simitis managed to win the party leadership at a dramatic congress in June 1996 shortly after party founder Andreas Papandreou’s death. The backing of Laliotis and George Papandreou, the founder’s son and now favorite to succeed Simitis, was instrumental in Simitis’s ascendancy. Chrysochoidis, 48, a soft-spoken lawyer, is the complete antithesis of Laliotis, who, as a close confidante of Andreas Papandreou, has always been seen as a hardline socialist and a very capable political operator credited with PASOK’s electoral victories. Chrysochoidis will now have to resign from his post as public order minister, where he was widely credited with helping destroy the November 17 terrorist organization over the past year. Apart from Simitis, the members of the new Executive Bureau elected yesterday (including Chrysochoidis) will not be members of the Cabinet. Only three of the 12 other than Simitis were on the last Executive Bureau. Simitis signaled that his Cabinet reshuffle, expected within the next few days, will be just as sweeping in order to present a new face in the party and government in the runup to elections. PASOK is trailing New Democracy (ND) in the polls by about 8 percent. «Routines, practices and customs have only a relative value. All must be held up to the merciless question: Do they promote and contribute to our aim of a new electoral victory for PASOK? If not, then we need change, a new solution.» Simitis praised his party’s new general secretary, saying, «Comrade Chrysochoidis has abilities and experience. He works hard; he acts decisively and and believes correctly that you achieve results when you pursue your aim continually with planning and persistence.» This underlined Simitis’s decision to combat voter fatigue after PASOK’s 19 years in power out of the last 22 by changing the face of the party. He and Chrysochoidis are expected to move PASOK closer to the center, making it more friendly to market forces, less anti-American, more related to current developments in the world, and more like social democratic parties in the rest of Europe. «As times change, so must we change,» Chrysochoidis said in a speech after his election. Simitis promised to present a comprehensive plan called the «Charter of Social Convergence» in September, with a strategy for improving conditions before next spring’s elections. ND commented: «Mr Simitis said today that to overturn the image of the old you need renewal of faces, new faces, fresh ideas and directions. We add that you need a New Democracy government.» Composer Mikis Theodorakis, a prominent left-wing activist, adopted Laliotis’s claim that he was being persecuted by the US. «Costas Laliotis was punished because he did not follow the Greek government’s complete alignment with (President George) Bush’s policy and he brought PASOK’s followers into the streets in peace rallies against the Iraq war. With this major and provocative action, the full Americanization of the ruling party is being attempted, and this is equal to a national tragedy,» he told Kathimerini.

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