PASOK celebrated its 29th birthday yesterday amid discussion over its future form. The context of the debate remains unclear. One would suspect that all this talk is nothing but an attempt to gloss over the image of a party that has been bruised after its long stay in power. This dimension is, no doubt, an important one. But it is not the only one. The issue also concerns the balance of power within the Socialist party and, more specifically, the attempt by the reformist group to tighten its grip on party leadership. This is not only a matter of completing the ideological and political transformation that began with Costas Simitis’s rise to power in 1996, it is also about formulating a new balance of power within PASOK. The striking host of measures announced by the prime minister demonstrates that despite its transformation, PASOK has not sloughed off some of its endemic characteristics. First of all is its penchant for blatant canvassing. True, at pre-election time, all parties succumb to populist tactics, some more than others. This time, Simitis seems to have overstepped the mark, even by the standards of late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. The government has of late tried to persuade us of the need to assist the lower-income groups and, at the same time, of its own social concerns. No doubt, large social groups are facing ever-growing economic difficulties. The handouts announced by the prime minister fall far short of relieving these woes, but they will be of some help – most crucially those aimed at helping poor households. In fact, it would have been better had the government allocated all aid to the less-prosperous population group. Election concerns, however, have prompted the government to give handouts to the middle class also. Given the timing, the measures smell strongly of opportunism. For this reason, the government should have avoided hot air about its purported sensitivity for the less well off – especially in light of Greece’s poor record in the distribution of wealth, which is one of the worst in the EU. What is worse, this uneven distribution did not, at the very least, increase investment, productivity or growth. Instead, political and business entanglements have undermined healthy competition and put the brakes on economic growth. The political responsibly for these woes lies exclusively with the Simitis administration.

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