Crucial times for Papandreou

Following the start of PASOK’s conference yesterday, party chief George Papandreou is entering one of the most crucial phases of his career. On November 11, at PASOK’s elections for party chief, he achieved a victory all on his own, out of the shadow of his father and of his predecessor Costas Simitis. No one appointed him to the chair. No one anointed him. He got there under his own steam. The party’s defeat in the parliamentary elections of March 2004 was a defeat for Simitis. Papandreou’s role was simply one of damage control. Nor can he be blamed for the party’s defeat three months later in the European Parliamentary elections of June. The municipal elections of 2006 were the first to provide an actual reflection on him as party chief. And while it is risky to try to draw political conclusions from local elections, Papandreou did not do too badly in those polls. The Athens-Piraeus prefecture, one of the largest and most influential in the country, was evenly split between PASOK and New Democracy. In Athens, ND candidate Nikitas Kaklamanis sailed into the mayor’s seat. Despite his clear party affiliations, his political presence transcends party lines; he was a hot favorite to win. This brings us to the biggest test of all; the September 16 general elections in which PASOK and its chief failed miserably. The defeat had to do with the party, but with Papandreou as well. His election campaign, one of blanket rejectionism, proved a mistake. He shouldered the responsibility, insisted that he had learned from his mistakes, promised sweeping change and, finally, achieved his first victory, on November 11. The way the election unfolded helped him mature politically. Now he will be judged by his strategies, tactical decisions and his choice of secretary and party aides. Here, he should opt for the skill and experience of tried-and-tested cadres such as Theodoros Pangalos, Michalis Chrysochoidis and Dimitris Reppas, while also surrounding himself with young, uncorrupted politicians such as Yiannis Ragousis, Panos Beglitis and Stavros Lambrinidis. PASOK is a party of power. It cannot afford the luxury of wasting its time on rejectionism and blanket criticism as though it were a smaller protest party. Citizens are mature enough to judge and discern between an honest effort to find solutions, which may often be hard to stomach, and the populism of the unfeasible. The generation of «change» has come full circle. In this age of globalization, the modern center-left must inspire its voters with realistic solutions that can be applied and will be effective. Though the election of Alexis Tsipras has inevitably triggered a shift to the Left, the road to power continues to run through the center. Papandreou is being called upon to choose which way he will go.

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