Election hoopla

The recent ruling by the state privacy watchdog that the procedure for the election of PASOK’s new chairman would violate the Constitution added a legal constraint to the institutional and political objections which have already been raised. No doubt Sunday’s election hoopla aims to serve PASOK’s public relations strategy in the runup to the general election. Even so, there are limits that must be respected. It should be acknowledged that George Papandreou had already suggested the idea of a chairman elected by the party base many years ago. In his view, PASOK’s chairman-in-waiting has backed his proposal each time PASOK discussed its organizational structure and function. However, the latest objections do not concern the election by the party base per se. The election of a party chairman by the party members, in fact, helps reinforce internal party democracy. The problem was caused by the interference of the so-called «party friends» in the election procedure – and what’s more, in such a way as to raise questions about how to define this specific voter body. If there had been two or more candidates, there would be more practical problems as it remains unclear whether the votes of party members and friends will carry the same weight. Following the stir caused by the decision of the privacy watchdog, PASOK made the necessary changes in its charter so as to iron out the inconsistencies. However, this is not just a legal issue. The very distinction between a member and a friend is politically ambivalent. How can they enjoy the same voting rights when they have different duties? What is really happening is that the Panhellenic Socialist Movement is trying to overcome the bankruptcy of its party model with patchwork solutions that aim to strengthen the hand of its new leader. If Papandreou really wants to reinvigorate his party he should have promoted a comprehensive proposal for PASOK’s transfiguration into an «open party.» Unfortunately, this never happened. The election will be completed tomorrow but institutionally speaking, the procedure is dubious. Opinion polls showed Papandreou as the clear front runner, effectively rendering him the unchallenged successor. When Costas Simitis was convinced that defeat was unavoidable, he orchestrated his succession in an imperial fashion. He passed the ring to Papandreou, bypassing party bodies and the charter. The rest of the party was then called on merely to applaud the move. This is the bitter truth and it cannot be disguised by the fact that all these moves were unanimously agreed upon and that the percentage by which Papandreou will be elected tomorrow will be almost grotesquely excessive.