ATHENS – As former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s PASOK Socialists have fallen to new lows in surveys that show the party is in danger of being overtaken by the Democratic Left and even the Communists, he said he will not give up the reins of leadership until the coalition government that formed when he resigned strikes a deal to get a second package of rescue loans, and an agreement to write down 50 percent of the debt, although those talks have stalled and are on the verge of collapse.
PASOK, the party that Papandreou’s father Andreas formed 30 years ago when he was Prime Minister, is sinking into irrelevance and towards oblivion, with a Public Issue poll for Sunday’s Kathimerini newspaper in Athens showing the party that roared to victory in 2009 when Papandreou easily pushed aside Costas Karamanlis and his New Democracy conservative party (that lied about the country’s economic statistics to the end), now has only 14 percent of the vote, compared to 13.5 percent for the Democratic Left and 12.5 percent for the Communists. New Democracy has resurrected itself with the failure of the Socialists and has 30 percent. The Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) has 12 percent, which means if PASOK doesn’t stop its slide, the once-dominant party could fall as far as sixth place. Nearly 33 percent of Greeks have said there is no hope and refuse to vote.
If elections were held now, PASOK would win only 40 seats in the 300-member Parliament, compared to the 160 it won in 2009, and New Democracy would have 130, still short of a majority, which means another coalition government would have to be formed. A current coalition led by former European Central Banker Lucas Papademos and including PASOK holdover ministers, as well as ministers from New Democracy and the far Right-Wing LAOS party, which has fallen to only 5 percent approval, has been paralyzed with infighting and leaders jockeying for positions for the elections that are now expected to be held sometime in April.
But Papandreou said he will not step aside until the government, which is surviving on $152 billion in bailout loans which started in April of 2010, can get another package of emergency money from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank. Perhaps even more crucially, Greece wants lenders to forgive 50 percent of the country’s debt, a figure which could rise to 75-80 percent as Greece wants drastic reductions in further interest rates, which could trigger an involuntary default, topple the 17-member Eurozone of countries using the euro as a currency and threaten world markets.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has failed in talks with the lenders to get a so-called Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal for a debt reduction because speculators and hedge fund traders are hoping to cash in on what they see as the collapse of Greece, Europe and the world economy. Papandreou said he won’t leave until a PSI deal is signed, but talks have broken off. He said he expects a deal could be reached by early April and elections scheduled later that month, but that will occur during Easter and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said he agreed to co-operate in a coalition government only if snap elections were held earlier.
Papademos, who had 75 percent approval ratings when he took office on Nov. 11, 2011, has seen his disapproval ratings rise from 25 to 62 percent as he has been unable to make any progress on key reforms the Troika demanded in return for the loans, such as further pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, layoffs and privatization of state enterprises and sales of state properties. Nearly 90 percent of Greeks believe the country is doomed to collapse. With so much political feuding going on as Greece is imploding, Greeks now favor Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis, a lawyer. Among party leaders, he has the highest support ratings at 56 percent.
At a meeting of PASOK’s National Council on Jan. 15, Papandreou defended his record as a leader who said he had to impose harsh austerity measures to save the country. “I experienced what it means to be days away from bankruptcy and not having options, what it means to try to convince the world that your country has prospects, what it means to face a conservative Europe, what it means to be alone,” he said.
A number of PASOK officials, including Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, called for Papandreou to state his intentions and set a specific date for the vote. Diamantopoulou was one of those who admitted that PASOK made serious mistakes in government. She said the Socialists were too willing to accept direction from Greece’s lenders. “We behaved like employees rather than politicians,” sentiments echoed by ex-Minister Haris Kastanidis, who said, “We were not ready as a nation or administration to confront this crisis.” Another former minister, Louka Katseli, and Parliamentarian Vasso Papandreou also criticized PASOK’s record.
An apologetic Papandreou admitted that the only thing his government achieved was to avoid a disorderly default, and once again put a fair share of the blame for the current fiscal problems on the New Democracy government which held power from 2004 to 2009. “Committing errors is natural when you decide to act,” said the former Prime Minister. “The memorandum (with creditors) did not solve the problems, but we did not default. However, our country has not yet avoided the risk.” He was defiant and said, “You must take all timetables and ambitions out of your mind. You should listen to a man who has lived it all within two years,” said the PASOK leader.
He also went after German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has always fully supported him, and whose country is putting up the biggest share of the bailout money. “They have a costume for Europe that is tailor-made in order to avoid a new Greece. They did not believe that we wanted to put our house in order after what they had seen until 2009. Conservative Europe has failed.” He also lashed out at the media and, as he is wont to do, made an emotional reference to his father, a three-time Prime Minister. “As for the cowardly attacks on my family, I will answer using a phrase of Andreas: You want to hit me? I’m here!” He added: “I do not know whether I will win the battle but I will fight; and that is from any post, be it within or outside of Greece.”
(Sources: Kathimerini, New York Times)