MPs ditch PASOK

Announcements by PASOK deputies that they will part with the ruling Socialist party ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections are snowballing. Only in the last couple of days, former Public Order Minister Stelios Papathemelis made public his decision to turn independent, former Health Minister Dimitris Kremastinos sent a letter to the prime minister informing him of a similar decision, while Kyriakos Spyriounis, a backbencher, said he will not run for re-election as long as Costas Simitis stays in charge. Needless to say, this string of desertions has fueled speculation that more Socialist deputies will follow suit, thus plunging the ruling party into an atmosphere of disintegration and defeatism. The exit en masse of so many deputies, who are leaving without even putting up a fight, is without precedent. Knowing that most deputies are actually keen to renew their mandate and that PASOK’s charter gives them the right to another term, the public inevitably deduces an indirect acknowledgment of the slimness of their chances and, by extension, the unlikelihood of PASOK winning the polls. This development presents PASOK’s leadership with a serious problem that has broader political repercussions. However, the manner in which Simitis has dealt with it has only helped to dim the importance of the MPs in the citizenry’s eyes. The premier delivered an ultimatum requesting that all deputies state in writing, and within the next 72 hours, whether they intend to run in the coming elections or not. This may spare Simitis the daily angst of the prospect of more deputies leaving the party fold, but it further corrodes PASOK’s image. The prime minister appears to be uncertain not only about which way PASOK voters will jump but also over whether the party’s candidates will actually stick with the governing party until the end of the election battle. In any case, it is far from certain whether Simitis’s decision to tighten his grip on his MPs will solve the problem of PASOK’s low degree of solidarity. Simitis’s repeated purges and the marginalization of party rivals may have strengthened the reformist faction inside PASOK but they have also provoked bitterness and antagonisms which are now coming to the surface and which are bound to take their toll. The price that Simitis will have to pay remains to be seen.