PM races against time

Prime Minister Costas Simitis is looking for a way out of the crisis once again affecting his government and that way, according to a close aide, is through concrete policy achievements. «By June, we must resolve the (privatization of) Hellenic Shipyards and Olympic Airways, make great strides toward resolving the issue of social security reform and make it clear that funds from the Third Community Support Framework are making a tangible difference,» the aide told Kathimerini. When Simitis won the April 2000 election by the slimmest margin since 1963, he said that the government ought to implement its main measures by the summer of 2002. He knew that local government elections, to be held in October, would usher in a long pre-election period, which would furthermore be burdened by Greece’s presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2003 and the effort to prepare the 2004 Athens Olympics. Three and a half months after achieving a record mandate from the ruling Socialists and finally marginalizing his rival for power, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, Simitis finds himself in conditions remarkably similar to those that led him bring the congress date forward from March 2002, putting his resignation in the balance to achieve it. The roots of dissension are more to be found within the «modernizers» who supported Simitis and who won control of the party in 1996. A disgruntled former ally, Theodoros Pangalos, has openly predicted that the Socialists will lose the next elections because they have lost touch with the «middle ground» of politics. Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Zafeiropoulos, was forced to resign last week after openly sniping at his boss, Foreign Minister George Papandreou, over Greece’s development aid to Balkan countries. And another former ally with whom Simitis has fallen out, MP Theodoros Tsoukatos, circulated a petition, signed by 45 MPs, calling for immediate talks on social security, and for «popular» measures that are bound to harden the unions’ stance against the government. In this atmosphere, the expulsion of MP Alexandros Chrysanthakopoulos on Friday for illegal gambling was seen as a minor irritant. The intra-party sniping is not solely aimed at Simitis; it also targets George Papandreou, who appears to be the favorite of the party membership as Simitis’s eventual successor. Zafeiropoulos’s case was vocally taken up by at least two senior ministers. According to Simitis’s aide, if the next elections are held at the latest possible time, spring 2004, «we will have three powerful weapons,» meaning the Third CSF, the upcoming Olympics and Cyprus’s possible EU entry in 2003. But, come election time, even these weapons may turn out to be not that powerful.

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