An electoral paradox

Despite the government spokesman’s flat denials, scenarios regarding a possible change at the helm of the ruling PASOK party persist. Speculation flared up after the prime minister’s ambiguous remarks at a recent press conference and then took off after remarks by Foreign Minister George Papandreou that seemed to question Costas Simitis’s leadership. Inside PASOK, there is a strong sense of imminent and significant developments. Socialist cadres hold that Simitis has turned from an asset into a handicap and say it will take a miracle to avoid a heavy defeat. Their survival instinct is pushing them to seek out this miracle. They want to recreate the 1996 story, when Simitis’s appointment gave PASOK some fresh momentum and ensured two consecutive terms in office. The party’s desire to go to the polls under Papandreou is itself putting pressure on the premier. However, the correlation of forces within PASOK bars a formal initiative. Papandreou makes no secret of his ambitions, but he has made clear that he will not take such a step before the polls. He reaffirms his respect for party institutions, but also believes that taking over before the vote would not be in his favor. The rival contenders want Simitis to stay, deeming that they would stand more chances, or at least possess more bargaining power, after Simitis’s expected defeat. The paradox lies with the diverging aspirations between PASOK officials and party supporters, on one hand, and the premier and party barons on the other. The former want to see a change of leadership now, hoping that this will improve PASOK’s chances of winning elections. The latter – each one for their own reasons – oppose a change in the status quo. Time will determine the outcome of this odd tug of war. There can be no safe prediction, but Simitis is clearly under growing pressure to step down.