OPINION

Commentary

The maneuver has been tested in the past and seems to be paying off once again. While his government is plagued by public discontent, Prime Minister Costas Simitis turns the society’s lack of confidence into an internal problem for PASOK, meaning that he sparks a party confrontation on the pretext that he is being undermined. By compelling party barons to face sharp dilemmas, he forces them to side with him and thereby achieves an easy victory, which he then exploits in order to convey the impression of renewal in the broader political sphere. This practice has, no doubt, helped to ward off fatigue and somewhat revive the party. Such political impressions, however, are always short-lived. From now on, Simitis will be devoid of protective filters. Ever since – as he said – the congress gave him a clear and strong mandate, he is exclusively responsible for the course. His undisputed victory deprived him of his sole alibi. Simitis received the mandate he asked for, but it was clear to everyone that many in the congress were mortgaging the future battle of succession; it was clear that the battle will be led by the young barons. Outgoing Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis’s victory was not just a triumphant approval of his candidacy for party secretary. It was something broader than that; a vote of confidence to guarantee unity and the smooth transition to the post-Simitis era, when that time comes. The vote of confidence for Laliotis is only superficially at odds with the fact that Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s welcome by the same delegates was as if he were being nominated for that succession. Facts demonstrate that the dynasty continues to radiate powerfully within the socialist party and can transcend dividing lines within it. Evangelos Venizelos is, perhaps, the only figure who can function as an alternative pole. But if there is a strategic alliance between Laliotis and Papandreou, the issue of succession will be resolved before it is even posed. It is worth pointing out, however, that all three protagonists of the post-Simitis era find themselves at the center of the socialist party. In other words, they can – each for different reasons – transcend the present dividing line and reunify the ruling party.