The contradiction of ‘traditional PASOK’

The Socialists’ national council last weekend was interesting on two levels: First, it made the eventuality of a rift within PASOK less likely as it approved the procedure for electing a new party leader next month. Secondly, the council generated new criteria to be considered in the countdown to the battle for the party throne. The speech delivered by current PASOK leader George Papandreou on Saturday was well-prepared and served its purpose. On one level, it offered analytic self-criticism. It demolished his actions to date in order to satisfy his supporters and reduce the serious displeasure with the party’s negative election record. His self-criticism appeared to be a crucial part of a show, not an authentic political assertion. He followed the written text with professional diligence without allowing himself to be tempted into a political confession. But he made no practical commitments. For example, he studiously avoided adopting a proposal made by many cadres (including his main challenger Evangelos Venizelos) for the party’s council to comprise fewer members and be elected at a conference, to offset the power of the party president. Also, Papandreou’s critique had a whiff of threat about it. He made it quite clear that in-party challenges would be punished by expulsions if they undermined the party. It should be noted that many PASOK cadres have attributed the party’s electoral defeat to the statements of certain cadres which, they say, sowed the seeds of chaos within the party. All this is a clear sign that, if re-elected, Papandreou will see his victory as a «clear mandate» to purge the party of challengers. Then there was Papandreou’s self-projection as a political descendant of his father, PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, and as a rival of his predecessor, and former premier, Costas Simitis. But his actions to date suggest the opposite. He has shown himself to be more ideologically close to Simitis’s «reformism» than the populism and nationalism his father had promoted. The crucial question is whether he believes even a small part of what he said. What is certain is that until last month’s elections Papandreou’s ideological profile had little in common with that he projected over the weekend. It is probably not any sudden transformation. More likely is that he is playing the role he believes will allow him to regain his equilibrium after last month’s heavy election defeat. The big contradiction of «traditional PASOK» is that it has been defending a leader with which it has no ideological link. It is wreaking revenge on Simitis, belatedly, supporting a name – not a leader – the representative of a political dynasty, not the voice of a political strategy.