OPINION

Papandreou vs PASOK

George Papandreou’s appearance in Parliament last week signaled an attempt to distance himself from the legacy of Costas Simitis, his predecessor at the helm of the Socialist party. Pledging his party’s support for government legislation against corruption and conflicting interests, PASOK’s leader in January acknowledged the extent of a problem that offered a tempting target for criticism by New Democracy during its years in opposition. Simitis’s government had repeatedly shirked responsibility, calling on the opposition to present any evidence to the prosecutor. Simitis’s governments rejected all anti-graft legislation tabled by the conservatives. Papandreou’s announcement was a move away from earlier Socialist tactics and a forewarning of PASOK’s future stand. Any new legislation will neither overlook past scandals nor offer those allegedly involved an amnesty. Rather, the details and the causes of political and business entanglement will come to light. This will have an effect on a number of outstanding cases, such as the stock market scandal and murky military procurement deals. Most importantly, it will help in the prosecution of those who had responsibility over the sectors involved. Many of PASOK’s senior cadres who held corruption-prone ministerial posts in the previous administration are put off by Papandreou’s backing of the government’s anti-corruption drive. The question, then, is why Papandreou has decided to join efforts to clean up the political system – a decision that puts him at odds with many of PASOK’s barons and primarily with his political mentor, Simitis. It seems that Papandreou has decided to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by senior cadres inside his party. Although only two months have passed since the elections, Papandreou’s leadership has already been challenged. Of course, a new change of chairman would be no easy task. Papandreou’s election was portrayed as a radical break with the past, and he came to be identified as the ideal carrier of renewal. His untainted image naturally met with some apprehension from his Socialist peers, who only assented to his meteoric rise in the hope of prolonging their own grip on power. Their conditional initial support for Papandreou then turned into a direct and systematic attempt to undermine their leader. PASOK’s crisis will be long, and its outcome is still uncertain. It will be less a question of political revival than of survival of the party itself.