OPINION

Venizelos scores an own goal

Everything seems to indicate that the PASOK conference and the election of new members will be unable to halt the Socialist party’s decline. The unfounded hope that this was the dawn of a new era has not been realized. An increasing number of cadres who backed George Papandreou in the November party leadership race are now turning against him for the simple reason that the much-hyped second chance has turned out to be a nightmare. It seems only a matter of time before Papandreou faces another challenge. In effect, Papandreou has been given a double mandate (the November election plus the conference). However, what is more important is the political dynamic and this is undermining his leadership status. Interestingly, the incumbent leader may take Evangelos Venizelos, the socialist heavyweight and his main challenger, down with him. The sour mood cultivated during two months of in-party conflict is partly to blame, but Venizelos’s errors have not helped him either. Since Venizelos decided to stay in PASOK rather than set up his own party, his main priority should have been to eliminate the November dividing line. He should have taken advantage of Papandreou’s self-destructive moves and forged new alliances within the party. That’s the only way to boost his fighting strength. Venizelos’s speech at the conference did little in pursuit of this objective. Here was an opportunity to speak openly about the crisis dogging the socialist party and what he plans to do about it. But it was wasted. The candidacy of Pantelis Economou as party secretary was not driven by personal ambition but was a bid to challenge the party leadership. It’s important that he received 44 votes, the majority of which came from cadres who backed Papandreou in the November poll. Here Venizelos squandered an opportunity to shuffle the cards, to penetrate the ranks of his former rivals, and to form a de facto alliance that would allow him to win the next battle. Venizelos’s successive mistakes have cost him more than the party helm. They reveal slow political reflexes. After his defeat in the party leadership race, Venizelos should have emerged more mature. In the election for party secretary, the pro-Venizelos wing chose to cast a blank vote, showing that it lacks sound political judgment and reflexes. Given the circumstances, the Venizelos crowd should have been more interested in the Economou candidacy than Economou himself. They must finally realize that PASOK needs more than a would-be prime minister. It needs a political leader. And herein lies a crucial difference.