Politics in this country is, naturally enough, dominated by the fallout of the controversial tourism development bill which has seriously hurt PASOK ahead of the March elections. The damage to the ruling party is so great that it could prove fatal to the Socialists’ re-election chances. A V-PRC telephone poll commissioned by Skai radio that was conducted among 1,200 people on Monday and Tuesday reinforces the above forecast. The high percentage of informed respondents (nine out of 10 said they were aware of the incident) and the overwhelming condemnation of the implicated deputies (71 percent were against them while only 12 percent supported them) point to a very unfavorable climate for PASOK, during a very crucial week. Most importantly, the reverberations from the scandal involving Deputy Finance Minister Christos Pachtas did not stop at the dumping of the deputies implicated but have had a major effect on public opinion, changing significantly the balance of power between the two front runners, PASOK and New Democracy. Asked who they think will win the coming elections, 48 percent said that New Democracy would while 23 percent thought PASOK would. That increases the conservative lead to 25 points from six last week. This trend is also reflected in voter preference. New Democracy’s lead has widened to 4.3 percentage points from 3.2 a week before. Forty percent of the respondents said that a conservative government under Costas Karamanlis will be more suitable for ruling the country than PASOK while 31 percent preferred an administration led by George Papandreou. Last week preferences were tied. Opinion polls are a reflection of transient trends, especially when they take place amid significant political developments as the case is now. However, they also underscore less ephemeral trends in voter behavior. It appears certain, however, that the planned public relations hoopla of February 9, whereby PASOK will try to give the impression of picking a pre-anointed and sole candidate as new party leader by means of popular vote, will take place amid a very unfavorable climate for the ruling Socialists. Its effectiveness is a priori undermined. Taking into consideration that PASOK’s election feast is Papandreou’s last card in his attempt to turn things around, the Pachtas affair could turn out to be the tombstone on PASOK’s campaign to come across as a vehicle of radical change and as a break with Simitis’s eight-year form of governance.

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