Between a rock and a hard place

So who should one vote for in next month’s elections for main opposition PASOK party leader? Should one opt for the incumbent George Papandreou, widely criticized as «indecisive,» or for his main challenger Evangelos Venizelos, seen as «unreliable» and «fake»? The dilemma, aptly summed up by the expression «between a rock and a hard place,» has been pondered by many commentators. It has been consolidated by a very interesting opinion poll carried out by the firm GPO on behalf of Mega Television channel. We need not analyze details of the poll itself, for it suffices to focus on the four characteristics that any party leader should possess: capability, decisiveness, honesty and credibility. One remarkable finding is that eight out of 10 PASOK voters do not consider Venizelos to be honest while nearly as many – seven out of 10 – do not believe he is reliable. At the same time, only four out of 10 respondents describe Papandreou as capable and even fewer – three out of 10 – believe he is decisive. And we are talking about PASOK voters here. The results of the poll appear to highlight the real problem faced by all those planning to participate in the leadership vote scheduled for November 11. Their essential dilemma is that they are being asked to choose between Papandreou and Venizelos, whom many regard more with mistrust than a sense of hope. This is perhaps what distinguishes the forthcoming PASOK elections from a similar vote held in 1997 to elect a leader for conservative New Democracy. It is true that ND, then in opposition, had suffered a second political defeat in a row, with then leader Miltiadis Evert initially refusing to step down. It is also true that the credibility of the experienced politician was immediately questioned by high-ranking party cadres. The difference, however, is that the solution to ND’s leadership quandary was not immediate. It took three months and an initiative by 33, mostly unknown, MPs to defeat the party «barons» and promote as prospective leader the «young and experienced» but politically uncorrupted Costas Karamanlis. Moreover Karamanlis’s candidature was given the seal of approval by former minister Ioannis Varvitsiotis, whose credibility no one doubted. Lastly, it should be noted that Karamanlis was not promoted as a rival to then Prime Minister Costas Simitis, as is the case now with Venizelos. Karamanlis was chiefly elected as an agent of real hope for regenerating a struggling party. We should also remember that Constantine Mitsotakis, now ND’s honorary chairman, was elected to lead ND in 1984 with the argument «who else can beat Andreas Papandreou» but it took him six years to become premier.

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