OPINION

Commentary

Costas Simitis’s re-election as PASOK party chairman at the ruling socialists’ congress – and his improved vote percentage from the previous assembly – along with the coming, radical Cabinet reshuffle, have been widely described as a victory of the prime minister over party critics. Instead they were, in essence, events marking the end of an era. Simitis may have been victorious, but it was Foreign Minister George Papandreou who emerged as the aspirant successor. Some PASOK officials will rush to flank Papandreou while others will rally to obstruct him from taking over the PASOK leadership. Though still formally in charge, Simitis is no longer the party’s central figure. Another, more direct change is that of outgoing Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis’s expected election as secretary-general of PASOK at today’s Central Committee meeting. Unlike outgoing secretary Costas Skandalidis, who played a largely administrative role, Laliotis is primed for conflict and will impose his presence and political ideas (whatever they might be) to create tension and bolster party solidarity while enjoying the support of the party’s hard core. This will not, of course, be consequence-free. It will also directly affect the government’s image. One wonders about the implications of reshuffling politicians who have been in power for nearly 20 years and who are clearly fatigued. Simitis appears to believe that only three Cabinet figures have successfully served his policy: First: Papandreou, who has fully revised the policy of previous PASOK governments toward Turkey, has restored close ties with Washington and can safely maintain his portfolio. Second: Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who has successfully cooperated with the United States over terrorism and who also seems certain to maintain his post. Finally: Development Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who will undertake a crucial finance position in the altered government. The fate of Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Interior Minister Vasso Papandreou are uncertain. Now Simitis is hostage to his reshaped government’s performance and vulnerable to the part critics he tried to neutralize. But his success is rather unlikely, especially in the wake of the dramatic changes caused by the terrorist assault of September 11. When Simitis threatened to the members of the Executive Bureau last June that he would resign (unless they agreed to the early congress), he raised the threshold of intraparty conflict. These officials helped give him his congress victory – and the illusion of power – and now await their new portfolios to make their comeback. Simitis – to use art critic Louis Vauxcelles’s description of the work of painters at the Salon d’ Automme in Paris in 1905 – will soon find himself faced with the wild beasts (les Fauves). This theater, however, will not be a gallery but the tough arena of political confrontation.