PASOK may back down on presidency

Despite previous threats that it could force early elections if it did not agree with the government on a new president, PASOK may support the candidacy of current ministers, such as Petros Molyviatis and Giorgos Souflias, sources close to the opposition leader told Sunday’s Kathimerini. With Parliament due to vote on a new president to replace outgoing Costis Stephanopoulos in March, PASOK leader George Papandreou had suggested, until as recently as his press conference at the Thessaloniki International Fair in September, that if the two main parties could not come to a mutual agreement on who would replace the popular Stephanopoulos PASOK could force snap general elections. However, sources close to Papandreou indicate that this may no longer be the case. Specifically, the names of Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias have been floated by PASOK as candidates they would accept for the presidency. PASOK spokesman Nikos Athanasakis yesterday denied this. «With regard to the election of the president, only the statements that Giorgos Papandreou has made are valid. The rest, which are supposed to come from specific people, have mischievous intent and evidently have not been discussed nor are they valid,» said Athanasakis. However, opposition sources told Kathimerini that PASOK could not vote against Molyviatis and Souflias as «in the last months, they have acted consensually in their spheres of responsibility and have avoided poisonous attacks on the actions of the previous PASOK government.» Papandreou’s about-turn could have more to do with the position PASOK has found itself in during the last few weeks. Opinion polls suggest that it would take a dramatic turn of events for the tide to change in PASOK’s favor by March. After two defeats at the polls already this year in national and European elections, a third early next year would raise serious doubts about Papandreou’s suitability and effectiveness as leader of the Socialists. Furthermore, with a parliamentary committee about to look into weapons purchases by the previous government and the possibility of more prosecutors’ reports being sent to the house for further investigations, it may give the impression that PASOK is pressing for early elections in order to get its former ministers off the hook. Papandreou’s aides also seem to believe that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is not pushing for a premature trip to the polls himself. They interpret his aggressive stance as having more to do with him trying to cover up for his government’s alleged shortcomings rather than any concerted effort to score another electoral victory.