PASOK crisis not posing wider threat

Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou is an unconventional politician, in the manner of his family’s tradition. He is a politician who does not inspire awe, having being «shaped» during a different – more European – political culture at the time of the military dictatorship in Greece. It is clear that Papandreou is not power-hungry. But he does believe that in leading PASOK he is handling a family legacy – and this is annoying to all «self-made» politicians including Papandreou’s chief challenger for the party leadership, the former minister Evangelos Venizelos. It remains to be seen whether this annoyance is shared by supporters – not just cadres – of the main opposition party, founded by George’s father, the charismatic Andreas Papandreou. Papandreou’s rivals within the party, and most political commentators, were fiercely critical of the party leader’s proposal to seek an expression of support from PASOK MPs in a secret ballot, ahead of November’s scheduled leadership elections. Venizelos’s outraged reaction to the move was justified from one point of view, as he is the main leadership challenger. The sharp reaction of former Prime Minister Costas Simitis provoked hilarity – as he called for respect of established procedures, despite having breached the party’s charter in 2004 by unilaterally appointing Papandreou as his successor. Papandreou has emerged from the upheaval he himself caused with less influence, according to the party leader’s rivals and experienced commentators. But there is another way to interpret developments. Papandreou may have flustered his MPs but he gained the certainty that his rivals do not have a majority in the party’s parliamentary group. If his rivals controlled the body of newly elected MPs they would have toppled him that same day rather than wait until November 11. And it was precisely this that caused annoyance, not any concern about established procedures. But how interested is the average citizen in PASOK’s crisis? Not very much. Even if Venizelos is elected, this does not mean the ruling conservatives are in danger. We need only recall that the assumption of New Democracy’s leadership by Constantine Mitsotakis in 1984 did not lead to the toppling of Andreas Papandreou in elections shortly afterward. Venizelos would be more vehement as opposition leader but he does not appeal to the masses. He certainly knows the ropes though. Papandreou has a new outlook but has not managed to project it effectively during his leadership – and this is quite fortunate as his outlook is too subversive. The ruling conservatives can feel safe. The threat is not coming from PASOK.