‘PASOK beyond PASOK’

Over a million people took part yesterday in the election of George Papandreou as the new chairman of the political party that his father founded in 1974, giving impetus to the new leader’s desire to create a more open party and what he calls «participatory democracy.» In his effort to change the ruling party before voter fatigue leads to the change of party in power, Papandreou appeared to have made significant progress yesterday. A poll conducted for Skai Radio, published by Kathimerini yesterday, found that if elections were held today, New Democracy would get 46.5 percent, PASOK 41.5 percent, the Communist Party 5.5 percent and Synaspismos Left Coalition 3.5 percent. The VPRC poll, conducted on Feb. 4-5, factored the undecided and others into this result. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) has some 146,000 members and its leaders – Andreas Papandreou and, since 1996, Costas Simitis – were elected by a party congress. An extraordinary congress on Friday nominated Papandreou to the post being vacated on his behalf by Simitis. It also adopted changes to the charter, allowing for the election of the new chairman by party members and unspecified «friends» who might want to take part. In order to sidestep a ruling by the State’s privacy watchdog that registering the names of non-party members taking part in the vote would violate their right to privacy, PASOK changed its charter to say that people voting yesterday would be considered party members for the purpose of the vote. It was not clear if there would be any fallout from this, given the political weight of the number of people who did turn up at PASOK polling stations across the country and as far away as the US and Australia. Papandreou, the popular foreign minister, was the only candidate. By last night, with a few polling stations still to report, the party said 1,013,533 ballots had been cast, of which 1,675 were blank. Papandreou went to Killeler in central Greece, the site of a farmer’s uprising early last century, to hear the results (and also perhaps to make some gains with farmers, who have been among PASOK’s harshest critics in recent years). Earlier, Papandreou had said: «This is a different party that we are shaping, a PASOK beyond PASOK, which combines the roots of popular struggles, the struggles of socialists, social democrats, and the great liberal tradition.» Opposition parties mocked Papandreou’s election as political theatrics. «PASOKãs new era begins with the best auspices,» party general secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis said.