ATHENS – A growing number of PASOK Socialist ministers and lawmakers are intensifying the pressure on their leader, former Prime Minister George Papandreou, to step aside quickly and let the party find a new leader ahead of snap elections sometime next year, although former spokesman Ilias Mossialos has called on them to be delayed for two years. Papandreou resigned on Nov. 11 after 18 months of protests, riots, and strikes over austerity measures he imposed on the demand of international lenders and some party leaders said they fear being tied to him will weaken chances of regaining the Premiership. A coalition government of PASOK holdover ministers and those from their bitter rival New Democracy and the far Right-Wing LAOS party is now being headed by former European Central Bank Vice-President Lucas Papademos.
PASOK party leaders and Members of Parliament are rapidly trying to distance themselves from Papandreou, but sources told the Athens newspaper Kathimerini that Papandreou plans to call for all the party organizations, at both the local and national levels, to convene next week to discuss the party’s performance while in government over the past two years and the direction the Socialists should head in next. Papandreou would oversee the process, culminating in the leadership election – probably in mid-January, the newspaper said. His aides said he could change his mind, however, if his record is attacked, an unspoken jab at Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who challenged Papandreou’s performance although he supported him when Papandreou was Prime Minister.
In a commentary in the newspaper Ta Nea, Chrysochoidis wrote: “Greece needs politicians that are prepared to get down to work and get us out of the crisis so we don’t lose another generation.” That led PASOK MP Christos Protopappas to say Chrysochoidis was downplaying his own involvement in Papandreou’s administration. “It is not desirable to be in the front line and then to suggest that you were not,” said Protopappas.
PASOK Deputy Interior Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos said the party’s executive bodies should convene next week to begin proceedings to elect a new leader. Koukoulopoulos said “time has already been lost” and suggested that if Papandreou did not start the process as the former leader apparently is ready to do now, PASOK’s national council would do so, the newspaper Kathimerini said.
Possible contenders for the party leadership are continuing to hold talks behind the scenes. Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos and Deputy Defense Minister Yiannis Ragousis, who formed an informal alliance last month, met to discuss which of them is likely to stand in the contest. Venizelos, who several years ago lost a challenge to replace Papandreou as party leader, is said to harbor ambitions to run but his role in instituting unpopular tax hikes could limit him.
Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, one of the PASOK holdovers serving in the coalition said he wants to take over the party, although he supported Papandreou’s policies but now has disavowed them. 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.
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.
The timing is critical as well as it could affect when new elections will be held. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who was Papandreou’s roommate at Amherst College in Massachusetts in the 1970’s, agreed to the coalition government on condition Papandreou resign and that there be new elections, and has said the Feb. 19 date is too soon, although he hasn’t yet responded to the idea of waiting until 2013 to try to take over. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos disagreed with the growing calls for the party to change leaders.
Speaking on Vima radio, Pangalos said the country needs to concentrate on getting a second bailout of $175 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank that would allow a 50 percent write down of much of the country’s debt. The country is surviving on a first bailout of $152 billion in loans. Mossialos and others said the interim government needs more time to work on that, even as Papademos was set to head to Brussels for a Dec. 9 meeting of leaders of the Eurozone, the 17 countries using the euro as a currency, who are trying to keep the union together. Pangalos said he thinks the coalition government can achieve its goals by next spring. PASOK MP Eva Kaili also said the party needs a new leader.