NEWS

PASOK wheel turns

Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday set in motion the process that is expected to result in his being succeeded as chairman of PASOK by Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Through his spokesman Telemachos Hytiris, Simitis said that he will meet with PASOK General Secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis and Hytiris on Tuesday at 1 p.m. At 7 p.m. of the same day, Simitis will meet privately with Papandreou at the prime minister’s home. On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the prime minister will meet with President Costis Stephanopoulos at the Presidential Palace. An hour later, at 11 a.m., Simitis will chair a joint meeting of his Cabinet and the PASOK party’s Executive Bureau. At about 1 or 1.30 p.m., Simitis will issue a statement. Hytiris’s announcement concerned «Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s initiatives in the next few days,» which are focused on developments within PASOK. This suggests confirmation of the speculation that Simitis will stay on as prime minister until the elections after Papandreou becomes party chairman. The elections are expected to be held on March 14 or 21. PASOK’s Central Committee is expected to meet at the end of next week to set in motion a process whereby Papandreou can be elected by the party’s grassroots in order to have the greatest possible legitimacy – a change from election by delegates at a congress. The process is expected to end with the acclamation of the new leader at a national congress in mid-February and the calling of early elections. To reporters yesterday, Papandreou would only say, «We will talk in the next few days.» But he has begun talks with aides and PASOK officials allied to him to plan his strategy. He and Simitis will likely talk on the telephone before they meet on Tuesday. Sources said Papandreou wanted to meet with former PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis but that this was uncertain. Laliotis opposes the idea of the post of prime minister and party chairman being held by two people. New Democracy spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos mocked what he called «decorative changes in PASOK’s shopfront» and noted that these «have brought about the government’s paralysis.» He said the conservatives were forcing the government to hold a debate in Parliament «so that they can justify themselves for the problems with which they have burdened Greek citizens: the new poverty, the wretched situation in the health sector, the pressure on incomes. And so that we can show ND’s new, realistic solutions.»