Papandreou pledges openness

Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who is set to become the new leader of the PASOK party, yesterday presented his vision of a «participatory democracy» that would bring about significant changes in the economy, institutions and citizens’ daily lives. Papandreou’s speech to PASOK candidates for the March 7 elections was effectively a changing of the guard for the ruling party as he spoke after Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who has stepped aside to make way for his foreign minister to become party leader at a congress on February 8. It was also the first time that Papandreou set out the framework of the policy he will follow as party leader, or as premier if PASOK wins the elections. He praised Simitis, both for his government’s achievements and for his decision to step down. But Papandreou also engaged in self-criticism, something Simitis has not done, even as opinion polls over the past year showed PASOK trailing the conservative New Democracy party by up to 8 percent. (A poll by Alco, published yesterday, suggested the gap had narrowed to 2.4 percent in the past week.) «Did we make mistakes?» Papandreou asked. «We did. Did we act arrogantly? We did. Did we not explain things sufficiently? We did not. Did we not stoop as much as we needed to over the average person and his problems? We did not. Maybe because we had to stand upright in our effort to deal with the challenges of a difficult time. Maybe because we had to race to grab opportunities, to narrow distances, to get ahead in the race to join the earth’s most powerful countries,» he said. «Maybe it was because some of us got comfortable, maybe they strayed, maybe they heard other siren songs, or were absorbed by their personal ambitions or seduced by the glitter of power.» «But,» Papandreou added, «we are here today to remember and to remind others as to who we are, what we want, what we are fighting for, with whom we are working, whom we are fighting for, to whom we owe… at this new start for the future,» he said. Regarding Costas Simitis’s term in office, Papandreou said: «Great steps were taken and are continuing: Our country’s entry into the Economic and Monetary Union, the major construction projects, the administrative reform of the Capodistria Plan, Cyprus’s EU accession, the successful EU presidency, the feverish preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.» «In the next four years we want to introduce a new type of government, that of the open society and participatory democracy,» he said. Papandreou did not provide details, but said this «will bring economic development; it will contribute to the just redistribution of wealth; it will give new meaning to social measures; it will support education; it will create new opportunities for all.» Papandreou saluted Simitis for his decision to step down, something that the opposition had described as a public relations exercise aimed at saving the Socialists ahead of the elections. «New Democracy asks, ‘Why did Simitis change?’, it does not imagine, it cannot imagine that the grandeur of a leader… is that he is not governed by the desire for power but by the desire to serve the people whose well-being he works for.» This prompted a long standing ovation for Simitis. Earlier, Simitis had said: «In life, everything changes. At one moment knowledge and experience are called for. At another, youth is needed.» ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos commented: «Mr Simitis’s successor today admitted PASOK’s failure. Where was he all these years? Did he not see the unemployment, the high prices, the poverty, the corruption, the dissolution of the State? Did he not see or understand anything of the stock exchange scandal? When did he take a stand?»

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