Opposition focus on congress

PASOK leader George Papandreou is implementing a plan to control procedures at the next party congress amid rumors of early elections in March and just as the opposition prepares for flak in Parliament over the investigating committee set up to examine its weapons procurements programs when in government. Papandreou has formed a small team of trusted officials who will work for the next two months in the party organization throughout Greece to ensure control of the majority of congress participants. His ultimate goal is to get a clear majority on PASOK’s national council, which will replace its central committee, and to get several trusted young officials onto the 21-member political council that will in future be the party’s highest decision-making body. Papandreou has never relinquished a keen desire to renew the party from the bottom up and to sideline some of the old guard. But action has been postponed because of successive electoral defeats, which tarnished his own image, and the likelihood of early elections next March due to the presidential election which demands maximum consensus within his party. Nevertheless, he seems determined to take the first, albeit timid, step of using the congress to change the human geography of PASOK, by which time the possibility of reaching consensus on a candidate for the presidential election will be clearer. Although his close colleagues say Papandreou is «ready for elections at any moment,» he is obviously dodging them. Current polls show that electoral trends have not changed much since last year, while the image of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has improved significantly in recent months compared with that of the PASOK leader, which has sustained a heavy blow. Yet other seasoned party officials believe the premier is simply trying to fulfill his election campaign promises, and say that if PASOK continues to protest about the establishment of an investigative committee, it will be exposed politically because Karamanlis will make a surprise move by producing a broadly acceptable candidate for the presidency, which will enable him to consolidate his hold on the so-called middle ground. The prospect of an early election will determine Papandreou’s attitude towards the committee. So far, he has avoided offering political cover to former ministers Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Yiannos Papantoniou and has merely insisted on the fastest possible completion of the investigation’s work «so that it will not overshadow political life.» This approach was chosen as the middle road, shortly after he received contradictory reports. The first suggested exerting pressure on the government to set up a prosecutor’s investigating committee, but the second proposed that PASOK denounce the government for tactics reminiscent of 1989 and and abstain from the examining committee’s meetings.