PASOK jarred by Simitis rebuff

As main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou prepared for his much-awaited speech today at the Thessaloniki International Fair, where he is expected to flesh out his party’s proposals for bolstering the battered national economy, the news that his predecessor, former Prime Minister Costas Simitis, would not be running as a candidate in next month’s elections was seen as a blow to PASOK’s chances of attracting voters from the center ground. Papandreou’s speech has been hyped as a 100-day promise in the mold of that made by US President Barack Obama prior to his election. According to sources, the PASOK leader is planning to respond to Karamanlis’s strong appearance in Thessaloniki last week by heralding a meaty three-month plan aimed at getting the economy back on its feet. The plan reportedly features strict deadlines and specific proposals for legislative reform and forms the springboard for a three-year plan for the country’s economic recovery. Sources say the plan includes an overhaul of tax laws and a pledge of salary increases above the rate of inflation. One of the ruling New Democracy party’s chief criticisms of PASOK is that it lacks solid economic policy proposals, so proving the contrary at TIF would be a boon for the opposition party. But the announcement by Papandreou’s predecessor Simitis that the latter would not be running as a candidate in next month’s polls is believed to have taken some of the wind out of the PASOK leader’s sails. Simitis reportedly wanted to run on the prestigious «national deputy» ticket while Papandreou wanted him to run as a candidate for Athens or Piraeus. Relations have been strained between the two men since June 2008 when Papandreou expelled the reformist Simitis from the party’s parliamentary group following disagreements over the party line.