OPINION

Commentary

A month has passed since the ruling PASOK party congress that gave its president, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, a clear mandate – support for his person and his policies and a new Cabinet of his own choosing. The congress also produced a new secretary for the party’s Central Committee, a man with much party experience who declared himself ready to work toward the reconstruction of what had become a tired party, and to form better links with society for the general rebirth of PASOK. With regard to the latter, it is a little too soon to judge, since Costas Laliotis has only just begun in his new post. However, with regard to the new Cabinet formed by the prime minister from his new strengthened position, and with the wind taken out of his opponents’ sails, certain observations can be made, particularly since all the top figures of the previous administration are once more in top posts and there has no been real change in any of the government’s policies arising from the outcome of the congress. It appears, then, that the prime minister is heading the new Cabinet in the same way as the previous one, by giving orders to ministers who do not appear to be paying much attention and who in one way or another are preserving their own autonomy (at least those at the top of the ladder), with an eye on potential future developments in the political arena.Just as he did before the congress, the prime minister is chiefly relying on the neo-reformist group of ministers, who are absolutely reliable (and grateful for promotion) and is trying to confine his reforms to the technical and economic level, where in any case some changes are mandatory. Secretly, everyone knows that ministers who are outside this coterie are simply doing their job as best they can. (In the ruling party, it is taken for granted that Laliotis is free to do as he pleases, in a sector where he has the last word and where his power allows him not to require the prime minister’s approval for whatever decisions he makes.) No one in the ruling party questions the prime minister, there is no clique planning his overthrow, and unity is taken for granted at this stage. Those with ambitions to succeed him are being discreet and cautious in their public statements, but in the top echelons of party and government, Simitis has no more political power than he did before the congress and the clear mandate. That is why his close associates tremble at the mere thought of any negative opinion polls. That is why they are desperately seeking PR strategies to enhance the government’s image and that of the prime minister personally. Simitis’s circle of close associates might be promoting the poll results that show him as the most suitable person for prime minister, but they correctly estimate that this is no longer of such great importance and could change at the first sign of trouble. On the whole, as long as other factors remain in place, they provide no surety as far as elections are concerned.