PASOK turns its guns on Costas Karamanlis’s image

A top priority for the PASOK party in the near future is an assault on the image and high popularity of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. The new strategy on the part of PASOK and its leader George Papandreou has emerged over the past two weeks. After the Chinook helicopter crash off Mount Athos that killed 17 people, PASOK was quick to attack the defense minister and has made regular references to the political responsibility of the prime minister himself. PASOK has also tried to back its claims regarding ND’s attempts to place supporters in the civil service. Two other issues indicate the new opposition tactic: the resignation of Agricultural Development and Food Minister Savvas Tsitouridis and the political conflict over the repercussions of the recent economic inventory. In the case of Tsitouridis, which has opened a Pandora’s box for both major parties, PASOK tried to cast a shadow over the prime minister’s initial reaction in asking for the resignation of the minister, one of his close associates. When a similar question arose involving the PASOK press spokesman Spyros Vougias – whom Papandreou has nevertheless kept at his post – it claimed the government had abandoned Karamanlis’s campaign promise of «modesty and humility.» As for the economic inventory, PASOK is preparing to turn its guns against Karamanlis despite the clear responsibilities of the Simitis governments for problems caused by years of «creative accounting.» Papandreou has received proposals recommending that PASOK ask for the resignation of Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, although these have been rejected, according to a leading PASOK deputy, because «we want Karamanlis himself.» PASOK’s strategy of tarnishing Karamanlis’s image has two main goals. Considering that after two successive electoral victories and the development of a centrist strategy for his party, Karamanlis is the government’s strong card, PASOK believes this is only way to reduce ND’s lead in a possible March election (if Parliament fails to elect a President of the Republic). And even if elections are averted, it is clear that denting the premier’s image is essential if PASOK is to have any hopes in an election due by 2008. Since last February, when there was little to distinguish the two party leaders in the polls, the prime minister’s popularity has skyrocketed, while Papandreou’s leadership has begun to be questioned, even within PASOK’s electoral base. Papandreou knows that he will not meet with much opposition from his rivals within the party at the January congress, since his election as leader is still fresh. However, he also realizes that if Karamanlis’s lead becomes entrenched, his own leadership will be very much in doubt. So undermining Karamanlis’s image will be crucial in consolidating his own position. But despite a general sense of dissatisfaction within the party, at the moment there do not appear to be any real prospects of resistance likely to challenge Papandreou come January.

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