The would-be guardian

The resignation of a political leader should be treated with respect, even if the motives are not selfless – particularly when that person has served as prime minster for eight years and his name has been linked to significant achievements. That is precisely why it is sad to see the politically pitiful way Simitis planned his succession. His announcement the day before last and speech yesterday before PASOK’s Central Committee revealed his intentions. He promoted himself most outrageously as a great architect of events. He presented his ousting of Costas Laliotis and «appointment» of a new Executive Bureau last July as the first phase of a plan. His rhetoric concerning renewal, however, is false. Those in the know are well aware that the premier had, in the previous months, exhausted every means of reversing the negative electoral correlation of forces. When the polls dashed his hopes, he was faced with a painful dilemma: Either he had to lead PASOK into defeat or submit to his party’s will and open the way for his succession. In order to save face, he chose the latter. Simitis also made a concerted effort to paint a positive picture of his eight years in power. Both speeches this week were marked by the excessive, if not arrogant use of the pronoun «I,» and the absence of any desire to engage in self-criticism. He has stayed on as prime minister and orchestrated his succession in order to gain a commitment from George Papandreou to be a continuation of, not a break with, the past. Simitis presented himself as his successor’s self-appointed political guardian. That means that at least until February 8, Simitis’s rhetoric will undermine the credibility of Papandreou’s new political style. Since Simitis will be a member of the next Parliament, fears are being confirmed that he intends to act as «PASOK’s Mitsotakis,» forming a pole of influence like New Democracy’s honorary chairman.

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