NEWS

Simitis and Chrysochoidis focus on building up momentum before polls

Prime Minister Costas Simitis is preparing a package of political initiatives aimed at focusing the government’s efforts on the economic sector until October so that the ruling PASOK party enters the election campaign period under the best possible conditions, whether the elections are held next year as scheduled or earlier. Simitis’s first card was his proposal for an amendment to the electoral law to be presented after Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. Simitis wants to create different conditions ahead of the next elections, as the new electoral law will go into effect only if approved by the main opposition New Democracy party – something its leader Costas Karamanlis has ruled out. Simitis is trying to embarrass ND politically by showing it to reject measures that will boost transparency, while also trying to open up channels of communication with the parties of the Left. Also directed at ND is the government’s proposal for the new electoral law to be brought before the current Parliament provided that it goes into force as of June 2005, after the next presidential elections. The electoral law is just one of the moves Simitis is planning to make on the political chessboard. In early September, he is to present the Social Convergence Charter to accompany moves to benefit the financially weaker classes that he will announce in September during his annual keynote address on the economy at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair. In October, interior Minister Costas Skandalidis is to announce the restructuring of the country’s regions. According to Simitis’s plans and those of the new PASOK Secretary General Michalis Chrysochoidis, the ruling party’s election campaign platform will be announced at a nationwide PASOK conference in January. PASOK party headquarters are expected to take up a complementary role, one in which Simitis has invested a great deal with the appointment of Chrysochoidis, who is expected to mobilize the ruling party in three directions over the next few months. Firstly, there will be an emphasis on the government’s work, with continual tours by government and party cadres throughout the provinces. Secondly, there will be a strategic approach to social movements and a rallying of people popular on a local level who could be included on PASOK lists of candidates for Parliament. The third priority will be to achieve coordination between government and party on current issues with weekly meetings between Simitis, Chrysochoidis and relevant ministers. What is of concern to PASOK party barons is whether these initiatives, as well as the way in which the prime minister has chosen to implement them, are enough to reverse the prevailing climate. Any momentum achieved by the break with (former PASOK Secretary General Costas) Laliotis already seems to have been spent. According to sources, Chrysochoidis’s advancement appears to have led to problems with the prime ministers’ associates Nikos Themelis and Socrates Kosmidis, while Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis does not want his policies to be monitored by PASOK headquarters. Within PASOK, the belief is that after his alignment with the government during the clash with Laliotis, Foreign Minister George Papandreou will take a more independent stance in order to be able to distance himself from any mistakes. Waiting game For the time being at least, leading cadres not at the center of the decision-making process are waiting to see just what kind of a reception Simitis’s initiatives get from the public, as well as the prime minister’s intentions for the party itself. This is the stance being taken by Evangelos Venizelos – who recently met with Vasso Papandreou – while last Thursday, Skandalidis visited Chrysochoidis for substantial talks. All eyes, meanwhile, are on Laliotis, who at present is keeping his cards close to his chest. According to PASOK cadres, the former party secretary has two options open to him – either to wait in the wings until developments force Simitis to call him back to the front line before the elections, or to provide an alternative ideology within PASOK.