Two PASOK backbenchers, both elected in Thessaloniki, said yesterday they would part ways with the ruling Socialists ahead of the national elections. Stelios Papathemelis, 65, who has held the education, public order and Macedonia and Thrace portfolios, said he was resigning from PASOK and would stay on as an independent. PASOK, which is lagging in opinion polls, now has 156 of Parliament’s 300 seats. Papathemelis, who last held a Cabinet post in 1995, complained that the party had become far removed from «the social and patriotic vision» of its founder Andreas Papandreou. He said the party leadership was to blame «for the massive loss of interest in politics by Greece’s erstwhile active citizens, and their transformation into apolitical consumers… to satisfy established interests that can thus operate without any social or political control.» Government spokesman Christos Protopapas said Papathemelis’s announcement was «the inevitable result of his stance up to now.» Also yesterday, Kyriakos Spyriounis, 70, said he would not run for re-election as long as Simitis stays in charge.