Papandreou steps up

Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday announced that he will seek the presidency of the ruling PASOK party, in a vote that will be held on February 8, ahead of the March 7 national elections. Prime Minister Costas Simitis, a little earlier, had tendered his resignation to the party’s Central Committee, saying that he wanted to give PASOK new impetus as it headed to the elections. Simitis was cheered frequently by the joint meeting of the Central Committee and the party’s parliamentary group. Papandreou was the only member to announce his candidacy for the post of chairman, doing so to reporters after the meeting. An extraordinary party congress will be held on February 6 to work out the details of Papandreou’s election two days later, as he wants the vote to include a larger number of people than the congressional delegates who voted in the past. «At this new beginning, with a sense of responsibility and, I would add, emotion, I submit my candidacy to lead this great democratic political sphere,» Papandreou said, using the term parataxi, meaning a political area larger than that of a party. In speeches on Wednesday and yesterday announcing his decision to resign as party leader (while staying on as prime minister until the day after the elections) Simitis laid out the achievements of his eight years as head of the government and stressed that he was renewing the party and government in order to defend and further his reforms. Papandreou yesterday stressed that he would want to see change. He said that the decision for the party leader’s election by «society itself» was unprecedented. «It expresses a truly new start, because society demands a say,» he said. «Society seeks a new relationship, a relationship of trust with its politicians, a relationship of trust with the State» that will go beyond «mechanisms, establishments and clientelist relations.» Earlier, Simitis announced: «Today I submit my resignation as president of PASOK. I call on us to decide on the process for electing a new president, so that we are ready in time for the elections.» He stressed: «Some rushed to say I would be a caretaker prime minister. They were wrong. I will take part in the electoral campaign.» Sources said he would run for Parliament in his Piraeus constituency and would take part in four campaign speeches, including a visit to Crete with Papandreou. «Every one of us… has achievements to defend,» Simitis said. Papandreou will be the third leader of the party his father, Andreas, founded in 1974. His rival in the elections is New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis, the namesake and nephew of the conservative party’s founder. US Secretary of State Colin Powell described Papandreou as a «very good friend» and said «I wish him all the best of luck, but it is a free, open, democratic election and it’ll be up to the Greek people to decide which party they wish to have lead them and who the next prime minister will be.» Powell added that he noticed, when the news broke, «all these wonderful pictures of George running in shorts and George jogging and George dancing.»

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