‘Greeks are tired of dealing with bureaucracy and disgusted with the extent of corruption’

Despite the package of measures (recently announced by the government) and the Convergence Charter, the difference between PASOK and the main opposition New Democracy party remains steady, with PASOK trailing ND by seven percentage points. What could change by election day? PASOK will be judged on the entire body of work it has accomplished during its four-year term, as well as by its ability to provide a new vision, new credibility, and to promote new forces within Greek society. The package of measures is only one example of our concern for people’s problems, while the Charter is a commitment for the future. It has created a new momentum in reducing the gap, a momentum that can be continued by means of courageous moves on our part and sincere dialogue with Greek society. The recent handouts and amendments to the laws on illegally built homes and on the forests have led many people to believe that the government, and Prime Minister Costas Simitis personally, have lost their credibility with the middle class that wants judicious management. Does this possibility concern you? Our goal is to wipe out corruption, and the unnecessary trouble many people are subjected to (in dealings with the civil service). We want to ensure that from now on the rules protecting the environment are obeyed and we want to satisfy the just demands of Greek taxpayers. The fact that these announcements came 10 months before the elections does not detract from our effort to resolve a chronic problem. I hope these measures will further these goals. After so many years in power, PASOK will have to overcome people’s «fatigue.» How feasible is this, given that Simitis has been prime minister for eight years and a number of leading ministers have been around for almost as long, some even longer? I have asked a number of people what they understand by the term «fatigue.» I believe that Greeks are indeed tired of having to deal with bureaucracy, they are truly disgusted with the extent of corruption in many sectors of the civil service and they find it unacceptable that all of society is held back by the petty interests of smaller or larger interest groups that want to dominate political life. People feel much too strong today, as Greeks, to put up with failings in any sector. They know that Greece has to push through reforms. The question is which party has the inner strength and conviction to do so. PASOK has shown that it can set Greece on the road to progress and change. PASOK governments have been identified with major changes that have benefited the country and its people. Costas Simitis has made this effort his life’s work, and this is something the vast majority of Greeks recognize. I realize, however, that today many people believe that PASOK has itself become part of the establishment and that it is therefore incapable of carrying out the necessary initiatives. That is the challenge we will have to rise to. I believe that PASOK is and can always be a living movement which, when necessary, can even contradict itself in order to better serve the country, and to transform itself into a new force for reform and change. I am afraid that ND does not have that potential, something which is evident from the feeble proposals it is making as an excuse for exercising opposition. Procedures to change the PASOK charter and to renew the candidate lists are meeting with opposition from within the party. Has the party in its present form lost any potential for change? PASOK was created as a force for change and its great political advantage is that it remains a force for change as far as its people, its policies, ideas and initiatives are concerned. It has kept this force alive despite the problems and the difficulties it has to deal with from time to time. Today PASOK is in a new phase of reconstruction and reform. Within the party a broad debate has begun on the changes necessary, and as you know, I submitted proposals and ideas on this some time ago. It is becoming more and more evident that in a changing world, a society that is developing and creating new social forces, it is a condition of survival for PASOK to evolve into a modern, deeply democratic and decentralized political party. People today are not simply calling for new policies but a new attitude, a new model of government that will deepen democratic functions, renew parliamentary life, revive local government, support the active participation of citizens, give a voice to those who need one, and display deep respect for every individual. I have said that our proposal for Greece in 2008 should be accompanied by a comprehensive proposal for PASOK in 2008. We have to break away from bureaucratic approaches, partisan transactions, and every type of action that alienates us from society. This perception must be evident in our choices, whether these are on the list of candidates for election or in the relationship between State and citizen. Yet again before the elections, PASOK appears to be remembering the center-left, even bypassing the party leaders in this sector. How convincing is this? PASOK has always maintained a dialogue with the people of the Left. I have always emphasized that our cooperation with other parties should be on the basis of an equal dialogue. Dialogue with movements and people should be on a continuous basis and on that issue PASOK bears its own responsibility for delays and failings. We have often not avoided the hegemony syndrome. I do not believe that dialogue with the parties of the Left should be limited to contacts between leaders, or to negotiations or cooperation purely with an electoral perspective. Not only because these approaches have failed in the past, but because they strongly indicate petty partisan and opportunistic expediencies. I am in favor of a convergence of platforms. However, we cannot overlook the fact that party leaders of the traditional Left are often negative regarding any policy put forward by PASOK or the government. On the other hand, we should undertake initiatives – and this is where our party bears a responsibility – to hold a dialogue and to cooperate with social movements, with the society of citizens and its representatives, with honesty and respect for our autonomy. Apart from the parties, there are considerable progressive social forces that want to participate in the political process and that is where we should turn our attention, not in order to gain votes but to work together to renew political life and to deal with many new challenges.