Mishmash party

Back in 2004, the newly anointed George Papandreou asked to be officially elected by Socialist party members and friends. Naturally, the one-candidate vote turned into triumph. Faced with a heavy defeat, PASOK willingly violated its charter. The few skeptics kept their doubts to themselves. Costas Simitis’s protest now is correct but overdue. Some accuse him of trying to pre-empt the November 11 result. The ex-leader would be better off had he made it clear that he was referring to the future. A bit of self-criticism would also help, as it was Simitis after all who passed on the mantle to Papandreou. Papandreou had promised an «open, participatory party» but, as usual, bright adjectives hide a gray picture. By its very nature, the election by members and friends fosters a leadership cult. Party bodies are weakened and can no longer offset the leader’s authority. As a result, the party’s intermediary role in the representative system is also weakened. But that crucial aspect has been avoided. Any objections have mainly centered on the fact that the conflict has spread throughout the party’s grassroots, putting PASOK’s unity at risk. But that was to be expected since the race for leadership was open to ordinary voters, not just Socialist ones. Inner-party polarization will no doubt make things harder for the day after, but that is no reason to avoid a mass vote. The genuine dilemma is between direct (mass vote) and indirect (congress vote) elections. Ensuring greater participation and avoiding party bureaucracy are arguments for direct election. But that does not mean that just anyone should vote. First, the electorate body must be specified. Secondly, voting rights must be reduced to those who actually belong to the party, i.e. its members. Or it will end up with a mishmash. And that would be a triumph of democracy – not of public opinion.