ATHENS – Almost a month after he resigned as Prime Minister, George Papandreou is clinging to power as the head of the embattled PASOK Socialists, but a growing number of lawmakers and former ministers from the former ruling party want him to step down and not be its leaders for the next election sometime early next year. Twelve Members of Parliament have signed a letter calling for him to resign from his party post as well.
That came only a couple of days after Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, one of the PASOK holdovers serving in a coalition government ruled by technocrat banker Lucas Papademos and including members from the Conservative New Democracy and far Right-Wing LAOS party, said he wants to take over the party, issuing a direct challenge to the man whose policies he supported that helped bring Papandreou down, including austerity measures demanded by international lenders to get a series of $152 billion in rolling rescue loans to keep the country from going bankrupt and defaulting on its loans.
The austerity measures, however, have created a deep recession of 18.4 percent unemployment, more than 100,000 businesses closing, more than 500,000 Greeks with no income and the highest rate of homelessness in Europe, leading PASOK members to try to distance themselves from the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and scores of thousands of layoffs they voted for.
Chrysochoidis said Papandreou has lost credibility, not just with voters, but his own party. “If the leader can no longer effectively represent the party, he has to go,” he said, reflecting the fears of Socialists that being tied to his failed Administration will ruin their careers and the party as well. Papandreou has not said if he will stay on until the next elections. Those were tentatively set for Feb. 19 but New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who demanded the poll as a condition of supporting the coalition and to get Papandreou out of power, said the date is now uncertain because he doesn’t know if Papademos will have enough time before then to push through more austerity measures needed to get a second bailout of $175 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank.
Chrysochoidis added, “The party must go into the next elections with a new leadership and a new set of policies,” and he said the party should hold a leadership contest after the holidays. He said that the PASOK government failed because it caused the recession, poverty and national humiliation and said Papandreou was to blame although Chrysochoidis backed the Premier when he was in power and didn’t challenge those policies.
It’s unclear who else wants to rule the party, although one seemingly certain candidate is Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who several years ago challenged Papandreou after PASOK lost two elections to New Democracy. But Venizelos has imposed waves of vastly unpopular tax hikes, including on the poor, and is seen by some as a lightning rod for criticism of the party. The newspaper Kathimerini reported that Health Minister Andreas Loverdos also is interested, and that Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and former Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis held a meeting with some of the founders of the non-partisan movement Koinonikos Syndesmos, or Social Bond, raising speculation that disillusioned PASOK members may want to form a new party after Papandreou dismantled the Socialist policies implemented by his father, former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, 30 years ago.