Stormy tendencies

This may be the first time that a major political party has shown such intense and bitter internal dissension on the eve of an election. Four months after George Papandreou was triumphantly elected leader of PASOK, high-ranking PASOK officials are indirectly but clearly raising the issue of party leadership. Most striking of all is the fact that the issue is being discussed more frequently in party corridors. There is little or no room to exercise any effective opposition policy before autumn. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s government is enjoying the period of grace that is commonly accorded to new administrations. Meanwhile, it is too early for irritation at the deeds and omissions of the previous government to fade from the public’s mind. This is normal when the government changes, especially after such a long term in office, just as it is normal for electoral defeat and loss of power to bring undercurrents of disagreement to the surface. The difference in this case is that, instead of getting involved in ideological and political discussion and in rebuilding the party, PASOK has become confused and disorganized. The new leader’s actions have contributed greatly to this, destroying the myth in record time and belying the great expectations invested in him, or to be more precise, in his name. The upshot is that the party is in a crisis which looks as if it will be painful and long-lasting. Papandreou is facing intensifying criticism but he remains determined to adapt PASOK to his own ideological and organizational strictures. Yet he refuses to lay his cards on the table and make his intentions clear. Behind his rhetoric of «participatory democracy» hides a rather autocratic notion of his role as leader. Hence the lead up to the November congress looks stormy. Internal opposition will correspond directly to the gap between the ruling New Democracy party and PASOK at the June 13 elections. If the polls prove accurate and the gap is about 8 percentage points, Papandreou’s position will be precarious as this will solidify the impression that he is an agent of defeat. The smooth, effective operation of democracy demands both a productive government and a strong opposition; one able to maintain the balance by exercising its role as a monitor.

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