NEWS

Papandreou in a quandary

The last few days of relative quiet for the government have been in complete contrast with the flurry of activity in the early part of December, when it passed several key reform bills and faced opposition from several unions and members of its own party. However, it appears that the calm will not last long as further reforms will have to be passed soon and the internal strife in the ruling PASOK party will need to be tackled. Sources have suggested that Prime Minister George Papandreou may even go to the polls in the months ahead in a bid to reshape his party and reassert control over the country. In terms of legislation, the government is set to submit bills promoting the overhaul of public transport firms, an across-the-board pay structure in the public sector, the reduction of wages at publicly listed firms in which the state owns a stake and the liberalization of closed professions. The legislation opening up closed shops was due to be unveiled before Christmas, but Papandreou and his team decided that it would be better to delay the bill in order to give the government a breather after the heavy opposition that unions and some Socialist lawmakers voiced when the reforms were passed earlier this month. According to sources, Papandreou and his aides are particularly worried about the high level of internal dissent in PASOK, which they view as a destabilizing factor. Evangelos Papachristos, a Preveza lawmaker and adviser to the premier, was thrown out of the Socialist party on December 16 for voting against the reform bill. Papachristos’s ousting reduced the government majority to six but was accompanied by several other Socialist lawmakers airing their concerns about the government’s economic policy. Sources said that one of the scenarios being considered by Papandreou is for him to call a snap election in the spring with the main aim of clearing PASOK’s candidate lists of the MPs that are not willing to toe the party line. However, some members of the government are worried that an early election could cause concern on the financial markets and within the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. There is also concern about the outcome of a general election as it is not clear that PASOK would receive an outright majority.