PASOK in crisis

The Socialists’ hopes of reversing the political climate are waning, a fact which inevitably sparks anxiety and debate that has so far fallen short of leading to a political solution. PASOK, a party of state functionaries, is finding it hard to accept that it may well be losing its grip on the levers of power. This has, once again, fueled speculation about a change in party leadership before the elections. But it was nothing more than a rumor which reflected the hope that the near-inevitable slide toward defeat can be halted. Because there are no cadres to transform wish into action, the widespread desire has not translated into any political moves. As a result, the rumors once again subsided when Prime Minister Costas Simitis brushed aside speculation. We cannot be certain of his final decision but, for the time being, he is struggling to trim the conservative lead. Simitis, as one would expect, is planning his next moves on the basis of an optimistic scenario. George Papandreou, the foreign minister who is portrayed as Simitis’s most likely successor, is not going to raise the issue ahead of the polls – among other reasons because he could hardly reverse the voting trend, even if he took the Socialists’ helm. There is no reason why he should risk an electoral defeat – even a marginal one – when everything seems to suggest that he will have little trouble in succeeding Simitis after the elections. PASOK is held to ransom by its internal paradoxes. It is unable to take any drastic remedial action that would allow it to re-enter the fray. It is worth noting that deep down, PASOK’s senior cadres are not worried about the prospect of defeat. Sure, they would like to keep their posts for another four years but they fear that, in the case of victory, Simitis will shove them to the margins, as he has done with others in the past. Most likely, PASOK will stay on the same course. However, should New Democracy widen its lead in December opinion polls, rumors of succession could evolve into strong political pressure. In that case, internal party dissent and bickering would place an enormous strain on the prime minister. Even though no one will directly ask Simitis to step down, his replacement will be widely seen as the only light at the end of the tunnel. But then again, Simitis may not back down. PASOK has long ceased to exist as an autonomous organization. Its local party organizations have atrophied. The movement has degenerated into an instrument in the hands of its leadership. The conditions for mobilizing the party’s instinct of self-preservation are lacking.