Papandreou must speak his mind

PASOK’s defeat in the March 2004 election inaugurated a phase of introspection and reorganization for the Socialist party. PASOK needed time. Fifteen months should have been enough. Normally, the much-touted party convention and the unanimous approval of the party’s manifesto should have put an end to all the navel gazing and marked a brand-new era for George Papandreou’s PASOK. Its mission as the leading opposition party is to monitor the government’s work, to criticize errors and omissions, and to propose alternative solutions for the problems facing the country. In the context of Greece’s basically two-party system, PASOK must always be ready to take the helm. To the extent that the government took the beaten political track, confining itself to the management of daily affairs, the Socialists had no problem firing vague potshots at the government. But since the premier put his structural reform program on track, the cracks in PASOK’s fiber have started to show. The OTE deal on staff hirings exposed the tensions within the opposition. Despite repeated meetings of their political council and parliamentary coordinators, the Socialists have failed to speak with a single voice. The disunity is echoed in the official remarks of senior cadres. Costas Karamanlis has focused on the government’s overall plan and that should make today’s off-the-agenda parliamentary debate a political challenge for Papandreou. The Socialist chairman is called upon to take a stand on the government’s reform campaign and, if necessary, to present PASOK’s objections. For Papandreou, the encounter will be a chance to dissolve the impression PASOK gives of being a political Babel – especially now that he has generally sided in favor of reforms and has repeatedly charged that certain non-political figures are trying to direct his party. Without doubt, Greece needs radical reforms to do away with its backward and inflexible institutions and liberate its productive forces. Despite some minor delays, the government has inaugurated a set of structural changes which, it hopes, will help solve existing problems. The opposition has the right and the obligation to present its own proposals, so that, come election time, citizens can make a responsible choice.

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