PASOK, 30 years after

PASOK succeeded in capturing center stage soon after it came into being 30 years ago. In three years, PASOK’s electoral power skyrocketed from 13 percent (in 1974) to 25 percent (in 1977), becoming the main opposition party. As early as 1981, the Socialists swept to power in a landslide victory. The success of late PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou in rallying the fragmented center-left forces around him was unprecedented. He did so by announcing a program that met the expectations and interests of the lower-income strata. The early assessments were that PASOK would be a small interval to a lengthy center-right hegemony but it soon proved otherwise. Papandreou was quick to enforce a barrage of measures that consolidated the party’s clientele and his own grip on power. These changes were not without cost for the country but also were a step toward installing the current two-party system. No doubt many of the changes that took place could have been implemented more smoothly and at less cost. PASOK matured along with the social forces it stood for, making the party extremely adaptable. That was made evident as early as 1985. When PASOK rode back to power in 1993, it was a different party, but the more profound ideological transformation took place after 1996 when Costas Simitis inherited the mantle of party leader. The 1996 victory was owed to the fact that Simitis’s PASOK wooed center-right voters – mostly from the middle classes – who took faith in the creed of reformism. The transformation, however, took its toll. The first cracks in the movement’s relations with grassroots supporters began to show – but the leaks were not fatal yet. The real problem was when Simitis’s policies started to alienate center-left voters. Partly thanks to the stock market boom, PASOK managed to win the 2000 elections with a tissue-thin victory, but it soon became clear that the Simitis administration was a spent force. Financial woes, the provocative establishment mentality of government officials, and burgeoning pandering and corruption cost Simitis many of the voters he had swayed from across the left-right political spectrum, particularly center-left voters, PASOK’s traditional pool of supporters. Passing the reins of the party to former Foreign Minister George Papandreou in a last-ditch effort to arrest decline in polls was in vain. In the March elections, PASOK suffered a heavy defeat. PASOK trailed New Democracy by an even greater margin in the June European elections, triggering a crisis inside the Socialist opposition. It does not appear to be a short-lived one. Despite his triumphant election by popular vote, PASOK’s newly anointed leader has yet to charm even those who were his most enthusiastic supporters.

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