Shooting star

The MRB poll which was published in Kathimerini last Sunday showed the popularity of incumbent Foreign Minister George Papandreou skyrocketing, thus rendering him a clear frontrunner in the race for Costas Simitis’s succession. Papandreou did not hesitate to say in public that he is ready to undertake his responsibilities, disregarding the fact that in announcing his intention of taking Simitis’s place, he was essentially presaging the defeat of the Socialist party and of the prime minister in the coming vote. From a political perspective, Papandreou’s posture was a major political faux pas. The country is in the runup to the elections and the outcome of the polls will determine the fate of a network of political and business interests that has been established during Simitis’s stay in power. Political commentators awaited Simitis’s instant response, but in vain. The premier has yet to take a clear stance on the issue and the communication crisis has been left to several expendable officials to handle, including government spokesman Christos Protopapas, who rushed to take a – somewhat premature – position. However, a RASS survey that was published in Kathimerini this weekend illustrated that Simitis is leading Papandreou by 11 percentage points as more suitable for prime minister. This means that the current Socialist chairman is the best person to lead PASOK in the upcoming elections, even if his chances of winning the race are slim. To be sure, the publication of the second opinion poll will not make Simitis gloat. He will leave PASOK and political analysts scuffling, lead the party into the elections and then blame the defeat on those who spent their energy on squabbling over the succession. Undoubtedly, some PASOK cadres will slip into a troubled sleep during the Christmas holidays and New Year’s Day as Simitis falls into complacent and solitary silence, pervaded by a feeling of utter disregard for his aides who seem so impatient to get rid of him. This will be Simitis’s last feeling of satisfaction before the electoral result sidelines him in domestic politics. He will no doubt put up a strong fight for re-election, essentially cut off from his party but with the backing of the powerful oligarchs that squandered the national wealth and EU funds, thanks to their connections with Simitis’s reformist administrations. Although he is heading for failure, Simitis would never step down ahead of the vote. Doing so would mar his reputation and condemn him to humiliating contempt. Most likely, those who anticipated a fresh campaign policy – not Costas Laliotis’s right-bashing but rather Papandreou’s aerobics – will rush to display their loyalty and rally round Simitis who, bound for disaster, will at least have the satisfaction of still being able to intimidate a few weary officials, deputies and ministers within the Socialist party.