Papandreou prepares to name first Cabinet

Prime Minister-elect George Papandreou is expected to name his first Cabinet today, following PASOK’s resounding victory at the polls on Sunday, a result which continues to send shock waves through New Democracy and yesterday led to one of the previous government’s most senior members, Giorgos Souflias, announcing his retirement from politics. Papandreou spent much of yesterday in conversation with close aides at his office in Parliament as he finalized the makeup of his Cabinet in the wake of a landslide victory, albeit with voter abstention reaching 29 percent. With virtually all votes counted last night, PASOK had 43.9 percent of the popular vote, New Democracy 33.4, the Communist Party (KKE) 7.5, Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) 5.6 and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) 4.6. This means that PASOK will provide 160 of the 300 MPs in the next Parliament, New Democracy just 91, KKE 21, LAOS 15 and SYRIZA 13. The clear majority for PASOK means that the Socialists should not have any problems passing their bills through Parliament. It also takes some restrictions off Papandreou in terms of who he appoints to his Cabinet as he will not have to worry too much about keeping some potentially rebellious members of his party happy. It is expected that Athens MP Louka Katseli will be appointed the new economy minister while PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papconstantinou will take over at the now separate Finance Ministry. Former Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis is being lined up for the new Infrastructure Ministry while former European Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou could become foreign minister. Papandreou is also expected to find a place in his Cabinet for his erstwhile rival for the PASOK leadership, Evangelos Venizelos. The Justice Ministry is seen as a possibility. Andreas Loverdos, PASOK’s most popular candidate in the Athens «B» electoral district, and an ally of Venizelos in the 2007 leadership race, is also likely to be given a portfolio. It is strongly rumored that Papandreou will try to appoint as many women as possible, so long-serving deputies such as Maria Damanaki and Vasso Papandreou are expected to play some role in government. Travel reporter Magia Tsokli, elected via PASOK’s state list, may also find herself at a ministry. Fofi Gennimata is likely to take over as party secretary from Yiannis Ragousis, who looks set to be given a Cabinet position. ND veteran Souflias quits politics after criticism over role in calling snap election Former Public Works Minister and New Democracy veteran Giorgos Souflias yesterday became the conservative party’s most prominent casualty, bar Costas Karamanlis, of the election result. Souflias issued a written statement, saying that his «long journey» in politics had come to an end and that he would not be involved in ND’s bid to find a successor to Karamanlis. Critics within the party have blamed the heavy defeat at the polls on Souflias, claiming that he wrongly advised Karamanlis, possibly because of his own designs on the ND leadership. But Souflias said that he was not interested in such a position and that if he had been, he would have used his years of experience to pursue other methods. He also dismissed the suggestion that the timing of the elections had contributed to ND’s worst defeat at the polls in its 35-year history. «Let’s not fool ourselves – there were many reasons for our defeat, the timing was not one,» he said. «If we had waited until February, the economy suggests that things would not have been better for the party.» Karamanlis is expected to request in writing today that the process to elect a new ND president should begin straight away. An extraordinary party conference is due be held on November 7-8, at which members will vote for a new leader.