OPINION

Commentary

In his opening speech at the PASOK congress yesterday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis called upon delegates to give him a clear and strong mandate. Although he did not clarify what this meant in practical terms, Simitis will obviously consider it a mandate if he improves – as expected – on the 64.7 percent of the votes he received in the 1999 congress. For this reason, over the previous days the pro-modernization party cadres have been making systematic efforts to minimize the number of blank ballots. A blank ballot is, of course, meaningful and legitimate but it is a fact that party dissenters are in a difficult position. Lacking the coherence of a clear-cut alternative political proposal, they have been trapped into fighting a rearguard action by the irresolute strategy of the aspirant to power, Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos. Simitis has linked his re-election to a broader political legitimization in order to continue his policy on the one hand, and to strengthen his hand within the party on the other. Despite his rhetorical pronouncements, that the right is the enemy, the prime minister has tried to pre-empt pressure for a change in government policy. Hence his indirect, albeit clear and pointed remarks, against Tsochadzopoulos and other dissenters. The prime minister will most likely be the great victor of the congress. This was obvious ever since the barons decided that PASOK should fight the next electoral battle with Simitis in charge. The only outstanding issue at the congress is the number of votes that each of the top PASOK officials will get in the ballot for the Central Committee. This will not only affect their status inside the party, it will also affect the make-up of the new Executive Bureau and the distribution of portfolios. It is worth noting that the focus has shifted to the nature of the impending reshuffle. It remains to be seen whether Simitis will exploit his easy re-election to promote his aides to top government ranks or whether he will try to maintain the party equilibrium. His decision will largely shape the climate inside the party in the coming months.