Pressure mounting on the Socialists

The new political landscape that emerged after the government’s structural reform campaign has not left the Socialists unmoved, although it has fallen short of prompting opposition leader George Papandreou into presenting a concrete political program. After a long period of navel-gazing, the conservatives appear to have finally come up with a coherent agenda that could guide them up to the next elections: The conservatives are promoting reforms of the labor market, social security and the banks’ pension system, while also considering a new wave of privatizations. In the next elections, the prime minister will have no problem selling a reformist image, since recent opinion polls have shown that the bulk of the public has embraced the government’s initiatives. Papandreou’s wait-till-it-drops approach, followed over the past 16 months, won’t do. PASOK had repeatedly accused the government of inaction – both at home and abroad – but that argument no longer holds. Moreover, senior socialist cadres who have been flirting with taking the helm of the party are pressuring Papandreou to present a set of specific policies on the main social issues; their pressure should intensify after the summer lull. The opposition leader cannot help but change course and take a stand on the government’s moves. Abandoning his neutral stance could be painful for Papandreou, for it will most certainly highlight PASOK’s internal tension – between advocates of a more liberal economic approach and those who cling to old-style social-democratic recipes. But failure to move forward will damage Papandreou’s reformer image, as encapsulated in the «George go ahead, change everything» preelection slogan, and discredit him in the eyes of the public.

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