Sleight of hand?

No one questions anymore the fact that PASOK has embarked on a quest for a new leader. Also, no one questions the fact that Foreign Minister George Papandreou is Simitis’s most likely successor. It remains to be seen, however, whether the change will take place in the runup to the vote and whether Papandreou can shake the party of the burdens of the recent past, purge it of corruption and restore its image in the public eye. There are signs that the switch could take place before mid-January. That will depend on developments within the party, the intensity of reactions against Simitis and the strength of PASOK’s instinct of self-preservation. Should all these parameters be in place, Simitis may well decide to step down when faced with the specter of an unavoidable defeat under his leadership. Such a power shift would itself raise some crucial issues. First, an alternation in the runup to the polls borders on sleight of hand, giving the impression that it is more a communication trick than a substantial political move. Genuine political change will not come during an election period. Although Papandreou does not belong to the circle of worn-out figures, he is nevertheless a senior cadre with a share of responsibility over the government’s performance so far. Furthermore, a leadership switch in PASOK presupposes confrontation with many government officials and radical reorganization of the party. In other words, a change at the helm of PASOK and the cultivation of genuine expectations demands complicated changes. For sure, it should be more than a publicity stunt and have a substantive impact on the citizens.