PASOK bets on ‘friends’

After taking a battering last week over scandals real and alleged, the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) hopes to use its extraordinary congress on Friday and Sunday’s election of a new president to boost its image and close the gap separating it from opposition New Democracy in the polls. However, party officials expressed reservations about whether this week’s events can mark a turnaround. Two new polls yesterday put New Democracy 4 percent ahead of PASOK. Foreign Minister George Papandreou is, and apparently will remain, the sole candidate to replace Prime Minister Costas Simitis as PASOK leader. Papandreou has insisted on a novel procedure for electing the president, a poll in which not only all party members are eligible to vote but also party «friends,» essentially anyone who walks in at a local polling place and declares himself or herself a «friend of PASOK.» Party officials were aiming for a turnout of 500,000, more than three times the current membership, turning the occasion into a plebiscite for Papandreou, as he himself had wanted. The particulars of the vote, as well as the procedures for the extraordinary Congress, where the two items on the agenda will be the modification of the rules for electing a president and approval of the party’s election platform, are expected to be published today. Certain PASOK officials yesterday expressed reservations about the procedure. They said that there could be problems in the future if there is genuine competition for the president’s post and remarked that the decisions for the procedure are being decided without much debate. Papandreou’s aides dismissed this criticism and called the procedure a first step in the effort «to break the wall between the party apparatus and society.» While opposition New Democracy prepares to unveil its economic program today, yesterday was marked by a controversy concerning an article in German magazine Der Spiegel. The article focused on the purchase of Leopard tanks by Greece and the role of two offshore companies which acted as middlemen. ND used the story, revealed some months ago by Kathimerini, to attack government corruption, while former Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said he would sue Der Spiegel. He was supported by government spokesman Christos Protopapas.