PASOK in turmoil

Less than three months after the Socialist leadership race, PASOK is on the verge of a fresh crisis that may well split the main opposition party. Evangelos Venizelos, runner-up in the November vote, has suggested the establishment of an in-party think tank. His aim is to set up a support network inside and outside the party ranks – that is, something less than a movement and within bounds of the party charter. The recently re-elected George Papandreou however does not stop at the technicalities, hence his accusations that his challenger is trying to create «a party within the party» as well as a hint at his expulsion. Venizelos’s move does not run against the party rules but it is politically counterproductive. Opinion polls confirm that PASOK has failed to capitalize on the government scandals. In fact, it has seen its ratings fall. Papandreou is proving to be a hindrance for his party and Venizelos should just let him self-destruct. PASOK’s head is using Venizelos’s move as a pretext to evade his own credibility crisis. And chances are he is not bluffing. He may well eject his rival, as he’d rather lead a smaller, albeit more controllable, party than be forced off the throne. Even though the conservatives are sinking deeper and deeper into the crisis, polls leave little room for optimism among the Socialists. A Venizelos withdrawal will tarnish his image, while Papandreou will be credited with a show of force. The Venizelos camp discussed but then eventually ruled out the idea of setting up a new party – at least for now. The crisis of the political system has created a huge vacuum, but that alone does not ensure the success of such a venture. Venizelos is not the one pushing things to a head. He would not like to be forced into an unruly withdrawal, while a deft move would allow him to score a big victory against Papandreou. The main issue is which of the two will be blamed for a potential breakup of the party.