Tough political environment ahead for George Papandreou

The days after the election will be a difficult time for PASOK leader George Papandreou, though there is no likelihood of any leadership change for PASOK at present, despite the extent of the defeat. It is still too soon to make safe predictions about PASOK’s future, but Papandreou’s staff and high-ranking party officials consider that the party’s long term in power and the limited time the leader had to turn the climate around are strong alibis that will blunt criticism of him. There is almost no question of his leadership being directly challenged, though Theodoros Pangalos made statements hinting that this could not be ruled out. Besides, yesterday was just the one-month mark since Papandreou’s election to the post of party president by 1 million party members and friends of PASOK. Sunday’s result puts an end to scenarios of a brief parenthesis with the Right in power until the presidential elections of 2005. ND leader Costas Karamanlis has a clear four-year term ahead of him. Some thoughts of directly challenging Papandreou’s decisions, that emerged in the first hours after the exit polls, soon disappeared. Papandreou will probably face criticism from three sides. Some traditional PASOK officials, such as Kimon Koulouris, who spoke on Sunday, will object to the party’s opening itself up on both wings and, especially, to the presence of Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos on the state deputy ballot. Another group of former ministers and deputies from the reformist bloc are expected to fault Papandreou for not sufficiently highlighting the work of Costas Simitis’s administrations. And some high-ranking officials are expected to criticize decisions made by the leader’s close circle of advisers during the election campaign. Those who know Papandreou well predict that he will soon reorganize that close circle. The major issue is how PASOK will regroup after Sunday’s shattering defeat. As Papandreou hinted at Zappeion Hall on Sunday night, the sweeping changes in the party that he announced during his campaign must go ahead, to which Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos has already expressed his opposition. Papandreou has the advantage that he was recently elected president of the party by a direct vote, as well as that the old guard of the party has been weakened in an election dominated by demands for change and renewal. Within PASOK, many believe that the leader will avoid at present any negotiations or compromises with the upper echelon of the party. Others say that the coming months will be tough for Papandreou, as the upper echelon will attempt, even by behind-the-scenes criticism, to secure their own roles in the new political landscape. At the same time, it is also considered certain that PASOK will initiate a broad discussion of political issues. As leading officials admit, the elections showed how much the party has distanced itself from its traditional political allies, such as farmers and small and medium-sized business owners, and highlighted the need to find ways of approaching them again. For now, Papandreou’s top priority must be to regroup PASOK in view of the European Union elections in June, where he will have to increase the party’s share of the vote at least slightly, otherwise doubts about his role will burgeon out of control.

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