A myth challenged

George Papandreou’s promotion to PASOK’s leadership is unprecedented, and it would be wrong to attribute it to machinations in the Maximos Mansion. The battle of succession ended before it even began. The weight carried by his name, his image abroad, his good manners and modest posture all make him very popular, rendering him PASOK’s best hope for the elections. Public disaffection with Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s policies and the specter of a landslide defeat brought forward the party’s need to find its lost unity, to renew faces and policies, and to restore its social profile. All this, combined with his ambiguous political persona, enabled Papandreou to attract forces from different ideological and political backgrounds. People have invested big and inconsistent expectations in Papandreou. Every group has projected its own collective fantasy on him. This explains the climate of solidarity and optimism that emerged immediately after the prospect of a leadership switch became visible. The inconsistencies are bound to surface, forcing dilemmas upon Papandreou, but they should not cause any problems until the polls. On the contrary, they have enabled him to broaden his catchment and trim New Democracy’s lead. But the hard times lie ahead. Now that the dust is settling, the myth of the «triumphant prince» is being challenged in the pre-electoral arena. The early signs are not encouraging. Papandreou is not only lacking at the level of rhetoric. His footing is unstable and his political language feeble, giving the impression of insufficient knowledge of crucial issues. A direct confrontation with a well-prepared Karamanlis could reinforce the impression. All this casts doubt on his ability to exploit the rallying of PASOK’s fighting forces and win. The vote is still open, but should he continue in this fashion he will not escape defeat. And it may not be a marginal one.

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