PASOK in disarray

Periods leading up to party congresses are usually dominated by political navel-gazing. But it is difficult to disguise the blatant political embarrassment among PASOK’s top echelons. Socialist Chairman George Papandreou has vowed to make radical changes to his party. Yet his exact intentions have so far been far from clear. The signs coming from his opposition camp are inconsistent. The Socialist opposition leader has been oscillating between following the beaten track of Costas Simitis’s administration on the one hand, and his own pledges to remake PASOK on the other. The paradox was clearly reflected in his negative stance during the parliamentary debate on the government’s so-called «major shareholder» bill. Papandreou has been characteristically laconic over the incidents of fan violence at the Nea Smyrni stadium, which seem to have sparked a campaign to clean up the world of Greek soccer. PASOK is still trying to find its footing. That was to be expected following its two landslide defeats, first in the national and then in the European elections. First, because the room for an effective opposition was limited. And, second, because the conservative administration has enjoyed an unusually lengthy period of grace. Public disenchantment over the mistakes and omissions of the Simitis governments has been too strong to erase from collective memory. After PASOK lost its grip on power, it was natural that long-suppressed contradictions and signs of dissolution would finally come to the surface. The important point is that instead of entering a new era of political, ideological and organizational renewal, PASOK has been thrown into a state of loss and confusion. The conduct of the new leader has been a major factor in this. It was not long before his actions demolished the myth and the great expectations that had been invested in him. Or rather in his name. As a consequence, PASOK has been plunged into an odd internal crisis. But the smooth and efficient functioning of a democracy requires not just a productive government but also a strong opposition that can strike a balance by controlling the administration. There is a serious deficit in that respect. Only time will tell whether PASOK’s congress will mark the beginning of a genuine political renewal.