In the first major development within the ruling PASOK party since June, when Prime Minister Costas Simitis called an early party congress in an effort to rein in dissidents, Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis said yesterday he would abandon his portfolio and assume the historic responsibility of running for party secretary-general. In a surprise move hailed by most senior PASOK officials, the 50-year-old erstwhile protege of party founder Andreas Papandreou told the Ta Nea daily that he felt it was his duty to aim for the post currently held by former Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis. At this crucial point, each of us assumes his own responsibilities, carrying out his duty to PASOK and progressive forces in general, said Laliotis, who has held his present post since 1993. To ensure that the future PASOK is a harbinger of hope and victory… I assume my part of the historic duty with my candidacy for the position of secretary. The secretary-general, the second most powerful socialist official after the party chairman, will be elected by the 180-strong central committee during the October 11-14 congress. Skandalidis, who has held the position for the past six years, did not comment on Laliotis’s announcement. But the socialists, who were forced to hold their congress six months early under the pressure of low popularity ratings and internal strife, appeared delighted with the idea. Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Laliotis deserves to be acknowledged and respected by all of us. When such important officials express an interest in participating in party procedures, the premier is certainly satisfied, he added. The PM is understood to have fully agreed with Laliotis’s proposal, and the minister is expected to encounter no difficulty in securing the position as he is seen as the one close ally of Simitis who is acceptable to all party factions. It is a very good political idea, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos – along with Foreign Minister George Papandreou, one of the foremost candidates to succeed Simitis – commented yesterday. Former minister Theodoros Pangalos hailed Laliotis’s decision as very positive and very interesting, while party organizational secretary Michalis Neonakis said the candidacy would serve to unite the party.