OPINION

PM at bay again

Last May, the social security controversy’s invasion of Greek political life shook the government to its foundations, forcing it to beat an undignified retreat on the issue. In an attempt to regain lost morale, Prime Minister Costas Simitis called an early party congress in October and reshuffled his Cabinet in a move that transferred Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis – who was responsible for social security reforms – to the post of deputy foreign minister. Simitis’s uncontested re-election as party chairman, with a higher share of the vote (72 percent) allowed him to believe he was in complete control of the situation. Yet, regardless of his own opinion of himself or his role, Simitis is treated by his fellow PASOK cadres and parliamentary deputies as a mere administrator. His actions are subjected to the criticism of many party members, who act either on their own behalf or else serve various interests, despite the fact that, logically speaking, they should be expected to back the government’s effort. This puts Simitis in a unique situation. Although he misses no opportunity to refer to the «strong Greece» he claims to have created since 1996, his own party and deputies treat him as a handicapped politician in need of guidance. Naturally, such treatment would create some bitterness or even lead to paralysis, as some PASOK cadres are gleefully putting about But the problem is not Simitis’s state of mind during crises but rather the prime minister’s dangerously frequent disappearance from the political scene because of opposition from within his own party. The sight of PASOK and its leader flailing about in confusion are no cause for rejoicing on anyone’s part – not even his sworn enemies – particularly at the current juncture. Simitis himself claims that this year will be a decisive one in foreign policy. Problems such as the crises in public administration and education, or the failure to modernize the economy are serious, but their resolution is primarily a domestic matter. However, the country’s foreign relations, in particular the Greek-Turkish dialogue on the Aegean that Athens seems about to embark on, or the Cyprus issue – where, since the beginning of inter-communal talks, the USA has declared a sudden interest in «upgrading its installations» in the occupied sector with the US Ambassador in Nicosia receiving the political and military leaders of an illegal state – mean that Greece needs a strong prime minister. That is because the third countries involved are naturally endeavoring to further their own interests at Greece’s expense. The consequences of any developments for the country’s foreign relations will be long-term and probably irreversible. Consequently, the PASOK «comrades» should show Simitis some mercy, either by backing his political decisions and bearing the consequences at the next election, or else by relieving him of his duties and finding someone else for the job. Under no circumstances, however, should internal conflict in the Socialists’ camp be allowed to paralyze the country.