Papandreou’s challenge

Ever since PASOK made its political debut, it has enjoyed the reputation of being highly organized and effective in utilizing propaganda and exercising power. It was therefore a surprise to see a party that has monopolized power for some 20 years become an object of ridicule because of the actions of party chairman (and Prime Minister) Costas Simitis and his most likely successor, Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Simitis and his reformist aides were taken aback when Papandreou appeared, somewhat impertinently, to claim the leadership of the party founded by his father, merely because an opinion poll said he is the clear front runner in the race for succession. No doubt Simitis was aggrieved at the stance taken by his once-faithful ally. Nevertheless, he tried to turn the blow into an asset as he managed to deflect attention away from the sorry performance of his reformist government to the issue of his Socialist party’s leadership. Some senior PASOK cadres rushed to argue that they have again succeeded in grasping the political initiative – even if that meant getting rid of the leader widely credited with the supposedly great achievements of the past two terms. Of course, the main issue is not Simitis, who is now considered to be an electoral liability, but his more promising successor. Papandreou has so far been treated with relative leniency; not because he possesses significant political skills, but because he was the only person who could review the foreign policy of his father, former PM and PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, toward Turkey. His own policy, although inconclusive, has been barely tolerated at home but warmly welcomed by US and European Union officials. However, it has always been common knowledge that Papandreou has been merely carrying out the policies of Simitis, whom he has consulted even on the most trivial issues. New Democracy would be fortunate to meet Papandreou either as an opponent in the elections or as an opposition leader after the vote. Papandreou is a moderate politician who is used to being treated with leniency and condescension. But politics is a merciless sport and, from the moment he enters the lists, neither his family name nor the family tradition will be enough. Nor can Papandreou anticipate support from the traditional Socialist cadres who have always viewed him as an oddity on the domestic political scene. Soon, he will realize that it is easier to dance zeibekiko with his Turkish counterpart than it is to deal with his own supposed comrades inside PASOK, who have some political clout.