The dark side of renewal
As an innocent and therefore attractive notion, novelty has always been a popular aspect of political rhetoric. George Papandreou, however, uses it ideologically. There is no doubt that renewal is essential to PASOK’s vitality. The problem is not just party fatigue after its long reign in power; it’s the pervasive effect of corruption on the Socialist party as a whole. The so-called Socialist movement long ago degenerated into an army of apparatchiks. When the grassroots were calling on Papandreou to «change it all» in early 2004, they wanted him to do away with that which was ailing the party. It was not, however, a mandate to turn PASOK into a liberal party or to sack the old guard. Political parties are not football teams or private firms; they must work along democratic lines. Papandreou rightly said that participation in a future government will not depend on the hours the various candidates have spent on television. His announcement regarding renewal of his party was welcome. But renewal does not just mean new faces. That in itself is pointless unless they accompany new policies. PASOK officials, young and old alike, are evaluated by the party bodies and in accordance with political criteria. And, of course, the voters have the final say. Papandreou’s actions shed light on his controversial remarks. Judging from his decision to make Mary Matsouka the top candidate on PASOK’s ballot for the European elections, Papandreou’s view of renewal borders on sensationalism. More important is his intention to impose a new type of leadership where the absolute leader is flanked by weak party officials who are, in practice, sidelined by his trusted aides. His desire for en-masse retirements and his promotion of new, often unknown figures appears to fit that pattern. Those who have to thank Papandreou for their promotion will find it hard to question him in the future.