Pangalos crisis reflects PASOK strife

The internal strife provoked within PASOK by the statements of veteran deputy Theodoros Pangalos regarding the institution of university immunity highlights the scope of the problems which have been plaguing the opposition party and preventing it from serving as an effective opposition to the government. Pangalos – a former minister to whom PASOK leader George Papandreou has entrusted the role of party rapporteur for the debate on constitutional revision – basically said something that was already pretty self-evident: that the university asylum law cannot be exploited in order to excuse unlawful acts, whether these be the manufacture of Molotov cocktail bombs or the illegal trade in drugs. Nevertheless, this reference to the self-evident drew stern criticism from PASOK’s general secretary, Nikos Athanassakis, and also led Papandreou to hold a meeting on Tuesday with Pangalos in order to highlight the discontent that the former minister’s intervention has fueled within the main opposition party. Judging from the way the Pangalos affair has been handled, it is clear that Papandreou is a hostage to the logic that PASOK should not adopt stances which go against the party’s traditional values and which may frustrate efforts to rally voters ahead of general elections (due by next March at the latest). Perhaps this would be a wise strategy if the government’s decline was so extreme that it had granted PASOK a clear lead in opinion polls. As things stand however, ruling New Democracy enjoys a lead of two to four percentage points in polls. If PASOK is to make gains in the next elections, Papandreou’s rhetoric should become much more enticing to the dynamic sectors of Greek society, those who are seeking realistic proposals for the tackling of chronic problems; he should strive to depart from the «wooden» rhetoric of the 1980s which, in any case, may no longer attract even the most traditional of the party’s voters. As long as Papandreou fails to take any remedial action, he will continue to face a dual problem: Firstly, ND’s lead will remain constant as PASOK continues to limit itself to its narrow voter base, and secondly, crises such as the recent one with Pangalos will recur with other high-ranking cadres as more and more them get fed of self-censorship. It was such thoughts that former prime minister Costas Simitis probably had in mind earlier this week when he remarked, «Progressive political rhetoric must be honest, realistic, socially sensitive and specific as regards its proposals and its prospects.»