Can PASOK ‘steal’ victory?

If Prime Minister Costas Simitis had insisted on trying to get re-elected, the outcome of the March 7 election would have been predictable. But the change of leadership in PASOK – the rise of George Papandreou to the presidency of the ruling party and, above all, his attempt to convince voters that he, like opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, represents the demand for change – has changed the scene. Observing the events of the past two months, one can perceive specific phases. December, when Simitis was still candidate for the premiership, ended with PASOK about eight percentage points behind ND, which was forging strongly ahead. The emergence of Papandreou cut the gap by about half, almost four percentage points. In fact, there was a moment in early January when the gap narrowed to three percentage points. Then came the ousting of Deputy Finance Minister Christos Pachtas over a controversial land development amendment. This was a blow to PASOK, canceling some of the gains that Papandreou’s rise to the leadership had brought. The gap widened again to 5.5-6 points. PASOK lost valuable time and had to absorb some of the positive energy that came from the party congress and the mobilization of 1 million voters during the election of the new leader and to recover from the fallout from the Pachtas issue. And when that was over, the shock of neoliberals Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos going over to PASOK caused further losses, though not to the extent of the Pachtas affair. Now, two weeks before the elections, all opinion polls show PASOK 3-4.5 percentage points behind ND. This raises the question of whether PASOK can snatch victory away from ND. The fact is that much is unclear. For example, although PASOK has little support, its leader has a good image in public opinion polls. There is much talk about the new electorate, new voters and the so-called apolitical voters who say they are attracted by Papandreou’s style. And there is the role of the Muslim minority, Greeks repatriated from the former Soviet Union and migrants, largely from Germany. Is all this sufficient to overturn the predictions, and to what extent can the Church of Greece counterbalance it? ND clearly has a better chance of winning, but nobody can say the battle has already been decided.