NEWS

Premier and ruling party are faced with crucial decisions

The government has been committing one blunder after another. The latest occurred on Friday when Prime Minister Costas Simitis was embroiled in a farcical performance at the Social Security Foundation (IKA), when a supposedly impromptu chat by telephone with members of the public on the 184 hotline proved to have been scripted and the callers to have been employees of the hotline service provider. PASOK and its leaders do not seem capable of forming a political center able to support their election campaign and overcome the public’s negative response. There is a general failure to coordinate and to rally fighting forces, while the party’s communications strategy is deeply flawed, amateurish, unimaginative and lacking political strength. The lack of organization is apparent, and with the election campaign reliant on the State and its mechanism, it clearly lacks impetus and a combative spirit. There are no spontaneous forces to mobilize and there is the general impression that north of Central Greece, PASOK will be struggling to win votes. Impressions Pollsters could not believe their eyes last week when the results of the latest surveys came in from the provinces. They predict bad results for the government and the prime minister in December, closer to those of the May polls rather than to those in September. There is every indication that 10 percent or more of PASOK voters have changed over to ND, and that PASOK is even losing its advantage among swing voters. The problem lies in the fact that as the myth of reform fades, Simitis can no longer use it as bait to bring back voters. PASOK and Simitis have lost their links with undecided voters from the right, who are now more comfortable with ND leader Costas Karamanlis’s approach. This group of voters seems equally persuaded by both PASOK and ND, and there is no major change in the figures, allowing Karamanlis a clear advantage just a few months before the elections. These statistics have rattled the government camp and fed ongoing speculation about a change of leadership, which came to the fore last week when Simitis would not categorically deny such a likelihood. More questions The latest polls are expected to fuel more questions and heighten tension in the government camp. Though PASOK deputies have remained silent, the climate among them is negative, and the results of the poll may encourage them to speak out. If the results are extremely bad for PASOK, they may spark a reaction. December is a tough month for the premier and PASOK, and it may prove decisive for them. The polls will intensify the defeatism already rampant in the party, but many believe that PASOK will not fail at the polls because the party’s instinct of self-preservation will prevail. The only alternative scenario for a replacement leader is Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is well ahead of the field as a possible successor. But he shows no inclination to take the helm of PASOK at present; he would prefer a calmer moment when the government is not under so much pressure. In politics, however, things don’t go the way one might wish. Opportunities emerge in times of war and if the foreign minister is called on to lead, he will not be allowed to refuse. Whatever happens, the ruling party is heading for a time of great difficulty and uncertainty.