Shock to the party

Officials and declared followers of PASOK are in a state of political shock. To them, Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos until now personified absolute evil. Even those seeking excuses to justify the decision of their new leader are finding it hard to welcome the high priests of neoliberalism into the socialist camp. PASOK’s other two transfers, both of whom share a communist background, are not much easier to swallow. Maria Damanaki and Mimis Androulakis supported the 1989 left-right alliance, they played a leading role in the so-called «catharsis» of a sleaze-ridden political system, and were fierce critics of the late Andreas Papandreou. It should be remembered that the outgoing Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s backing of Damanaki’s candidacy for Athens mayor was largely snubbed by PASOK voters, resulting in a landslide defeat for the joint candidate (with Synaspismos Left Coalition). George Papandreou differs from his predecessor. As the son of the party founder, and with the unprecedented political legitimacy he gained from the popular vote on Sunday, Papandreou feels he can afford to shatter PASOK’s ethical and political stereotypes. No one else would dare include such neoliberal figures on the state list (a list of parliamentary candidates, elected according to the overall number of votes the party gets and not as a result their own personal campaign), for fear of the political cost that such a makeup would entail. Clearly, Papandreou is not afraid of the prospect. He obviously has confidence in the historical weight of his family name and the inability of cadres to voice their disagreement. Besides, as a political organization, PASOK has unraveled, and there is no room left for dissenting voices. Hence the crucial issue is the reaction of the electoral base. The overwhelming majority of PASOK’s voters have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths. Many of them are voicing their opposition in public. But any predictions about the electoral fallout would be premature. Papandreou’s election planners deem any reactions will soon fade away, without creating any cracks. They think that Manos and Andrianopoulos will enable PASOK to lure conservative voters away from New Democracy – especially those economic liberals who voted for PASOK in the 1996 elections, swayed by Simitis’s reformist pledges. Opinion polls will give us some indication of the impact, but only the ballot will tell for sure. The costs may outweigh the gains. Pre-election expediency, anyway, is not the sole consideration: The venture is mandated by Papandreou’s strategic belief in the need to transform PASOK and the political system in general.