Simitis wants unity

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday sought to rally the ruling Socialists’ parliamentary group by attacking opposition New Democracy and mollifying critics within his party as much as possible. In his speech to the MPs, Simitis said that the Socialists must present a «single front» ahead of the national election. «Society hates infighting, personal feuding, political positions serving as an alibi for personal strategies. It is the opening to society and not the entrenchment in the party organizations which will bring victory,» Simitis said. The PM further assured the MPs that all of them will be candidates in the next election, as the party Charter mandates, and that a code of conduct prohibiting extravagant spending and excessive media exposure by single candidates would be strictly enforced. Simitis chose not to respond to biting criticism by veteran former minister Gerassimos Arsenis, essentially accusing Simitis of dividing the party, leaving the task to other speakers. Arsenis and Simitis have been opponents ever since the latter replaced the former as National Economy Minister in 1985 with a mandate to implement austerity policies, rendered necessary by Arsenis’s free-spending ways. They were also rivals for the premiership when Andreas Papandreou retired in 1996. For all his efforts to appease, Simitis did criticize ministers who, in their visits around Greece, limit their contacts to local citizens and party members. «They achieve nothing this way,» he said. Simitis’s target for most of his speech was opposition leader Costas Karamanlis, whom Simitis attacked for statements calling the government a «regime» and for his recent visits abroad. In responding to the «regime» accusations, Simitis went so far as to remind MPs of violence- and fraud-marred elections held in 1961 and won by Karamanlis’s uncle, the late Constantine Karamanlis. Commenting on Karamanlis’s visit to Ukraine and Georgia to visit Greek communities there, he reminded MPs that, at the last elections, narrowly won by the Socialists, Karamanlis had blamed defeat on fraudulent citizenship awards to these people. Simitis praised Karamalis’s visit to Turkey and his friendly discussions with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but added that Karamanlis had, over the last four years, attacked Simitis over his «appeasement» of Turkey. «Did he repeat to Erdogan what he says here, that ‘Turkey’s provocativeness has passed all limits’»?, Simitis wondered.