Papandreou to ‘not shirk’ responsibility

Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is considered the great favorite to succeed Prime Minister Costas Simitis as head of PASOK, made his most direct comments yet on the issue yesterday, saying he would «not shirk» his duty. This coincided with a poll published in Kathimerini which found that 58.8 percent of voters would like to see Papandreou lead PASOK if Simitis were to withdraw willingly. Second choice was Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, with 4.9 percent. Among PASOK voters, this difference widened to 73.7 percent for Papandreou and stood at 4.5 percent for Venizelos. Further, 49.8 percent of respondents in the MRB poll said it would be a «positive» or «rather positive» development if Simitis decided to withdraw in favor of Papandreou before the coming elections. Among PASOK voters, this number rose to 58.1 percent, with 13.7 percent opposed to the possibility. «It is the prime minister’s call, but when the time comes I will not shirk from undertaking my responsibilities,» journalists accompanying Papandreou on a flight back from Brussels quoted him as saying. He also commented on the possibility of Simitis choosing to undertake a position in the EU. «Mr Simitis has a very good reputation in Europe. The Europeans want him and there are positions available. The question is whether the prime minister himself is interested,» Papandreou said. The journalists quoted Papandreou (the son and grandson of prime ministers) as saying that he would not take any action against Simitis and that he believed PASOK could win the next elections if it exercises self-criticism and changes policies. «The party is in a rut. I want a live party, with dialogue, intensive criticism and disputes involving all opinions,» he said. Venizelos commented: «In politics what matters is to have a sense of timing. What is critical and timely now is that Costas Simitis is not succeeded as prime minister by Costas Karamanlis, the leader of New Democracy.» The nationwide poll, parts of which were published over the past week, found ND was leading PASOK by 8.2 percent.