Biding their time

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s address to PASOK’s central committee yesterday made no significant political contribution but is highly revealing on a semantic level. This time, Costas Simitis did not attempt to play the role of the undisputed party leader, of the leader who has the whip hand over the party and government. Over time, this role appears to have been confined to leaks from Maximos Mansion. Yesterday, the premier, albeit indirectly, admitted that his party would be defeated in the coming elections. But Simitis utilized the Socialists’ grim electoral prospects as an ultimate argument. His message to aspirant party leaders was that no one would survive an electoral debacle. In effect, Simitis called for unity and solidarity not in the name of a common goal, but in the name of a common danger. Simitis’s call, however, will most probably fall on deaf ears. While the party barons are conscious of the threat of PASOK’s political humiliation and will strive to avert such a prospect, they are not willing to give up their personal ambitions for the succession, which surface ever more clearly as time goes by. In truth, it is not only the party barons, but also the vast majority of senior Socialist cadres who have begun to behave in accordance with the logic of a post-Simitis era. They have realized, in other words, that Simitis’s leadership is drawing to a close. This explains the intensified competition among party barons themselves. Compared to the previous period, dissent within the party has subsided despite the fact that the situation is less favorable for the ruling party. In the past, however, Simitis was the leader, now he is a provisional leader. It is no coincidence that PASOK’s one-time powerful modernist-minded wing has fallen apart and its members are seeking to join the forces of one baron or another. The results of the local and prefectural elections will be a difficult test for the prime minister but the private aspirations of his successors will not allow dissent to get out of hand. Everyone seems to have accepted that Simitis will be in charge of the EU’s rotating presidency. The real battle is expected to start in a year from now.

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