Playing with fire

On the face of it, the procedure for George Papandreou’s election as new PASOK chairman not only by Socialist party members, but by any citizen who wishes to do so merely on display of his or her state ID, succeeds in upholding the party’s democratic credentials. The move is supposed to mark a fundamental break with the party’s policy, giving voice to ordinary citizens on an issue as crucial as the nomination of a political leader who may one day rule the country. The abolition of the distinction between party members and non-members in the process – a decision that abolishes the nature and the role of parties, designated by the Constitution as pillars of the democratic system – alters some of the basic parameters in the domestic political sphere. At the same time, however, it raises a number of crucial issues and problems that concern society as a whole. First, the new nomination system appears to have been introduced for reasons other than those officially declared. It is, in fact, an attempt by Papandreou to use the popular vote in order to strengthen his hand over rival barons and trends inside the party, knowing that their backing is nothing but an opportunistic move before they start undermining him should PASOK lose the pending vote. However, this is of concern only to PASOK. What is of concern to everyone, on the other hand, is the selection of a process whereby PASOK voters and supporters will, en masse, cast their vote in the open, and have their names put on PASOK’s lists. This will put pressure (which borders on psychological blackmail) on people belonging to vulnerable social groups who do not want to risk their positions (nationalized migrants or ethnic Greeks, civil servants, public utility workers and so on). Use of the registers for Papandreou’s election next Sunday will make it possible to establish whether a person is pro-PASOK or not – a threat for vulnerable classes of citizens. Besides, this is why real ballots are cast in secret. This does not mean to say that Papandreou intends to use the lists for such a purpose. On the other hand, we cannot be certain that no other Socialist cadre will succumb to the temptation of using the register to force people into voting for PASOK. Nor can one exclude the possibility of the data being used by a less principled leader in the future. At the end of the day, even a rival party could use the information for its own benefit. One should not play around with such issues. It risks the kind of mistakes for which we have paid dearly in the past, merely for the sake of partisan confrontation.