The annual congress of Greece’s main left-wing SYRIZA opposition took place while PASOK was holding the first meeting of its central committee tasked with organizing the Socialist party’s upcoming convention. The timing alone should allow for comparisons between the two political parties.
Two parliamentary elections and a number of public surveys suggest that PASOK is on its way out, although its troubled leader insists that he is only losing a battle. In stubborn defiance to the facts, Evangelos Venizelos claims that his strategy is bearing fruit.
Contrary to PASOK’s meteoric decline, SYRIZA’s fortunes are brightening. But only a mechanistic interpretation could possibly explain one trend as the exclusive outcome of the other. To be sure, SYRIZA has greatly benefited from the en masse defections from the once-dominant PASOK. Still, a chunk of PASOK’s disaffected voters turned to Democratic Left, now a coalition member.
Furthermore, SYRIZA drew support (not just voters, but also political staff) from both the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and other left-wing parties and groupings. And this has shaped its character far more than the entryism-in-reverse tactic adopted by several senior PASOK officials has.
One of PASOK’s biggest strengths was the hegemonic presence of its late leader Andreas Papandreou, a politician very capable of handling the ambitions of his inferiors. Similarly, Alexis Tsipras is also one of SYRIZA’s biggest strengths – but to a smaller extent and for different reasons. Tsipras’s early advantage was not exactly political: Rather, it was his young age, as opposed to Andreas Papandreou’s career as a renowned economist and his family history.
Andreas Papandreou was almost by default classified as a charismatic leader – a fact that made him increasingly insensitive to democratic habits as party president and prime minister while his supporters worshipped him in near-mystical fashion.
Tsipras, on the other hand, who was catapulted to center stage by his predecessor Alekos Alavanos, had to prove himself from the very beginning. And he still has to. For it’s not easy to bring under the same roof a dozen of different orthodoxies, as it were, that are used to petty power-games and competition about their degree of radicalism.
Tsipras, who has never been shy of Papandreou-speak, has described SYRIZA as a party for those who are without: “without jobs, without security, without rights.” But in a sense, PASOK is also a without-party: a party without many followers, a party without many of its cadres, a party without pride in its political legacy. And this is where similarities between the two end.