One of the most crucial national councils in PASOK’s 33-year history is due to begin this morning and, for the first time, will pit the three candidates for the leadership against each other, and in front of the party members. PASOK leader George Papandreou and his rivals, Thessaloniki MP Evangelos Venizelos and Athens MP Costas Skandalidis will all speak at the gathering, which is due to being at 11 a.m. today and end tomorrow. One of the key issues that will be raised is the reason behind PASOK’s dismal defeat in last month’s general elections. Party officials had appointed a commission to study the matter but, largely due to in-fighting, no final report has been published. In his address to the national council, Papandreou is expected to highlight the failings of his predecessor, Costas Simitis, and the way he believes some party officials, including Venizelos, have undermined his leadership since 2004. The PASOK leader is also likely to use the opportunity, ahead of the November 11 leadership ballot, to put forward specific positions on key political issues, following on from Venizelos’s 20-point plan for the party this week. Venizelos is expected to hit back by portraying Papandreou as incapable of leading PASOK and having made repeated errors during his stewardship of the party. Simitis is also expected to address the council but sources said that he is likely to try to play a unifying role rather than hit back at Papandreou. The most recent opinion poll this week, by MRB, suggested that among PASOK voters, Papandreou is ahead on 43.3 percent and Venizelos is close behind on 42.6 percent. Skandalidis garnered 6.9 percent.