ATHENS – Like his father Andreas 30 years before him, George Papandreou was the Prime Minister of Greece until being hounded out of office on Nov. 11, 2011 following 18 months of protests, riots and strikes, after he imposed austerity measures ordered by international lenders in an attempt to keep the country from going bankrupt, and now he seems poised to step aside as the leader of the PASOK Socialist party his father founded. As the political council of PASOK was set to meet on Jan. 13 ahead of a meeting of its national council over the weekend, it was expected that Papandreou would reluctantly give up the reins, ending a mini-dynasty in what the Greek media called a “velvet divorce.”
The newspaper Kathimerini said he seemed set to give up the leadership of the party to which he has clung to even after his resignation as Prime Minister of the country, so that PASOK could find a candidate to run in the next elections now tentatively set for April. A coalition government led by former European Central Bank Vice-President Lucas Papademos, which has combined holdover PASOK ministers along with their bitter rival New Democracy conservatives and the far Right-Wing LAOS party, has been ruling Greece and attempting to keep international rescue loans flowing but has also experienced infighting and political feuding over policies.
Previously, Papandreou suggested that he should remain the party’s president and that someone else should be elected to stand as a prime-ministerial candidate, but now he is reportedly bowing to pressure from party leaders who don’t want the party to be saddled with a resigned former Prime Minister as it seeks to regain power. A number of PASOK leaders are jockeying to get the nomination, including Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who failed to unseat Papandreou as party leader several years ago, and has the disadvantage of having imposed waves of tax hikes on Greeks, including taxes on the poor. Kathimerini said Venizelos is trying to push Papandreou out of the picture so that the party can elect a new leader, who would then become the candidate for Prime Minister to run against New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, whose party has a significant lead over PASOK.
Twenty PASOK Members of Parliament have written a joint letter appealing for Papandreou to give up his tenure and allow the party to find someone else to lead it, a definite sign that he is no longer wanted. Papandreou has tenaciously tried to cling to power and had earlier said he wanted to be the party’s leader until the elections, which would have put PASOK in the untenable position of having a candidate for Prime Minister who was not the party’s chief. That prompted an outcry from other PASOK leaders who want him unseated. “We must go into the next election with a new leadership, which will have enough time to prepare. End of story,” Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou said earlier this month.
Speaking to Kathimerini, Diamantopoulou, who has in the past few weeks emerged as one of the leading candidates to replace Papandreou as party chief, acknowledged that PASOK has suffered serious political and ideological damage, making it a necessity for the party to “dissolve and reinvent itself.” Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis called Papandreou’s stance “tantamount to a pact of silence while standing on ruins.” A Public Issue survey last month showed only 12 percent approved of Papandreou as party leader. The poll found PASOK’s ratings have slid to an embarrassing 15.5 percent.
In his role as the party leader, he has continued to represent PASOK in talks with Papademos over how to get a second bailout from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank of $169 billion, and a write-down of 50 percent of the debt to keep Greece from going bankrupt. A first round of $152 billion in rescue loans has failed to keep the country from sliding toward what seems to be inevitable bankruptcy and default because the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and thousands of layoffs Papandreou forced on Greeks have created a deep recession in which tax revenues are falling despite big tax hikes, as many Greeks have slowed or stopped spending and more than 100,000 businesses have closed, contributing to an economy in which the unemployment rate has hit 18.2 percent.