A new political battle

Prime Minister Costas Simitis attempted to make a dynamic comeback onto the domestic political stage after the end of Greece’s presidency of the European Union, beginning with the removal of Costas Laliotis as PASOK secretary general and a feeble government reshuffle. Two «major initiatives» concerning the new electoral law and parliamentary deputies’ declarations of assets aroused strong reactions, mainly from his own party’s parliamentary group. Rarely has such an outburst of zeal by a premier been exhausted in such a short time and created so much opposition. In effect, it revealed that Simitis functions as the leader of an informal elite whose natural rival is a considerable sector of the party that brought him to power. PASOK’s greatest peculiarity has been that, for a number of years, it functioned both as government and opposition and that combination has allowed it to remain in power for two decades. Andreas Papandreou agreed that pensions (set by government decisions) were unacceptably low, while today’s reformists are often surprised at the state of the country, which those participating in PASOK governments have had a hand in creating. Over the past seven years, all of PASOK has been lauding the party’s ability to transform itself, in order to justify the transition from state-centered to neoliberal economic policy, rapprochement with Turkey, conciliation over the Cyprus issue and orientation toward the USA. What is strange is that although the system worked in favor of the ruling party, Simitis decided to make a break, not because he hoped to move ahead with what he has failed to do all these years, but because he could no longer tolerate coexistence with PASOK’s traditional wing. So a group has been set up comprising Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Foreign Minister George Papandreou and the new General Secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis, who are preaching the new reformism which Simitis has not been able to promote due to dead weights within the party. The protagonists of this new experimental theater, affable, youthful, acceptable to Americans and Europeans, actuated by new visions, have evolved from the reformist left of the first years after the fall of the dictatorship, a phenomenon that had widespread appeal among various sectors of society, but not at the polls. It is this group that Simitis hopes will reverse the climate by September, when he will decide whether it is in his interest to have premature elections. The point is that the election campaign has effectively begun. Very soon, an attempt will be made to bring about a split between Simitis’s «progressives» and the «anachronistic» bloc who believe that the main elements of the nation’s character should be retained in the new European environment, as with all EU member states. Greece has lived through many political conflicts, but this is one of those rare times that the political battle is being waged by a supposed elite against a still considerable sector of the party that supported it.