Open debate

Although speculation over PASOK’s potential leadership switch abated last week due to the Christmas lull, related developments did not come to a standstill. Prime Minister Costas Simitis himself appears willing to hand over the reins of the ruling party on the condition that a way is found to guarantee him a graceful exit. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, the overwhelming favorite for his successor, does not object to such a solution. In fact, he views it as a necessary precondition, seeking a transition process based on concession and hoping that this will rally the party’s fighting forces. However, if the two political men are preoccupied with these questions, the country is faced with other, more pressing issues which are related to the essence of political representation and the process of consultation. The fundamental political question concerns the objective behind PASOK’s desire for leadership change. Does the desire echo a political demand, a need to change political course – as happened with Simitis’s reformist policies, with former Conservative Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis’s embracing the free market doctrine or, more controversially, with the much-hyped «change» advertised by the late Socialist premier Andreas Papandreou? If not, then does the desire convey a demand to purge the political system of several «power centers»? Or is a leadership switch seen as a last-minute communication trick, an ultimate attempt to cause a political stir? If this is the case, then one can only feel disheartened over the quality of political representation in Greece, a country where communication seems to overpower substance. The procedural issue is equally significant. The prospect of a leadership change inside the ruling Socialists is a party issue, not a national one. However, given the fact that PASOK is the biggest party in Greece’s post-1974 history, the party’s respect for democratic processes – and the party charter – are fundamental political issues for the citizens, and not just party members. At this moment, unlike what happened in 1996 when corridor talk also took place but when the debate was quickly made public, developments now only take place behind the scenes. In that way, the question over the motives behind PASOK’s leadership change are blurred and serious dialogue is precluded. For the sake of the country, the ruling party, Simitis’s political legacy and the image of his aspirant successor, the closed-door discussions should be made public. Most importantly, we need a discussion that will move beyond mere opinion polls and tackle the substance of politics.