Simitis decision splitting PASOK

More than 50 percent of voters believe PASOK could be heading for a split due to what they see as a mistaken decision by party leader George Papandreou to marginalize former Prime Minister Costas Simitis. According to a survey conducted by Public Issue on behalf of Sunday’s Kathimerini, 51 percent of all voters think that PASOK could soon split into two parties. When just PASOK supporters were questioned, 43 percent said they feared a break. Four in 10 PASOK voters felt that Papandreou was wrong to leave Simitis out of the party’s parliamentary group after he publicly criticized the younger man’s handling of certain issues. However, 41 percent of the Socialist faithful believe that Papandreou was right to punish the ex-premier for his outspokenness. Half of PASOK voters think that the move will weaken the position of Papandreou, who fought off a leadership challenge last November. A third believe that the leader will be strengthened by his controversial move. Simitis, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2004, had a prickly relationship with George’s father, Andreas, when the latter was PASOK president. George Papandreou took over from Simitis ahead of the March 7 elections in 2004 but his inability to rejuvenate the party has drawn veiled criticism from several senior members, including Simitis. More turmoil is expected within the party this week, as some deputies, who have remained silent so far, may be forced to take sides on the issue. Simitis has pledged to keep speaking out.