NEWS

Stalemate on many issues within ruling PASOK party

Prime Minister Costas Simitis is not having much success in ensuring that next weekend’s meeting of the PASOK Central Committee will mark the end of the ruling party’s introspection. Simitis wants the meeting, which is in preparation for the Organizational Conference in July, to provide the framework for his counter-attack in view of October’s municipal and prefectural elections. The problem is not only the health minister’s decision to retire from politics after the next elections (see article above), though the issue is still causing tremors within PASOK and exacerbating what is already a difficult climate for the party. According to reports, despite the summit agreement between the prime minister and members of the Central Committee that the Organizational Conference adopt a decision for the leader to be elected by the party’s base, and for the party congress to elect the party secretary, Executive Bureau and Central Committee, the changes to the charter are likely to cause friction at the two-day conference. First of all, a group of Central Committee members, including Simitis’s former close associate Theodoros Tsoukatos, are leaning toward an outright challenge of the agreement between PASOK party barons, claiming that by introducing the changes to the way party officials are elected, the party is essentially returning to the idea of a «double leadership» rejected by the 1996 conference. In fact, they are claiming that at this stage, a «double leadership» would be more dangerous than at that time, as it is likely that in 2004 PASOK will be the opposition party, so its leader would not be prime minister. In addition, there will be disputes if the some 60 members of the Central Committee who are affiliated with Akis Tsochadzopoulos assume his recently expressed view in favor of the party base electing the president and the congress three or four vice-presidents. This is sure to meet with opposition from PASOK secretary Costas Laliotis, as well as from George Papandreou, Evangelos Venizelos and Vasso Papandreou, as it would virtually put the next party leader into a position of being monitored. Yet this is not the only problem for the prime minister’s office or party headquarters. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who has been pushing for the past two years for the adoption of a proposal to have the president elected by the base, is expected to ask for the immediate implementation of any decisions made so that the next party leader will be elected by all its members. This view is shared by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, although other leading cadres reportedly prefer the issue to remain open and final decisions made shortly before the next congress. Finally, there is expected to be much debate over the suggestion by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos that the Organizational Committee commit itself to having Simitis lead the party at the next election, so as to put an end to talk of a succession process. Other leading cadres view this as catastrophic, as such a statement would be tantamount to PASOK admitting it was expecting to suffer a massive defeat in this year’s local elections. Unwelcome