ATHENS – Even as the PASOK Socialist party his father founded 30 years ago, which has dominated Greek politics since, has sunk to single-digit support and is rapidly sliding toward oblivion, former Prime Minister George Papandreou said he won’t step down as its lame duck leader until it meets in March to make a change. Papandreou was in Costa Rica to address the Socialist International party as its President, and then in Israel, as surveys came out and showed PASOK had slid into fifth place in popularity polls, even behind the marginal Communists, but was unapologetic about being an absentee leader.
”There were some delays and mistakes but we really began to tidy up the economy,” he said during a meeting of PASOK’s parliamentary group. Under growing pressure to resign as PASOK’s leader, he dismissed criticism about his frequent trips abroad. “I promote and defend Greece across the globe,” he said, adding, “I shall always stand by you in this struggle, in whatever post I may hold,” he told PASOK Members of Parliament, some of whom are pushing for him to be ousted before the party disappears. But he told them they should be proud for having averted a national default, before lashing out at PASOK’s coalition partners. ”New Democracy should thank us, because by saving the country we also saved them from political extinction,” he said.
Papandreou resigned on Nov. 11, 2011 in the wake of nearly two years of protests, strikes and riots due to measures he imposed on the orders of international lenders giving Greece $152 billion in rescue loans. The loans came packaged with punishing pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and layoffs that have created a deep recession with 19.2 percent unemployment, closed more than 100,000 businesses, and left the country nearly destitute.
Before he talked to his deputies, Papandreou met with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who has emerged as the front runner to succeed him, although he will have the difficult task of convincing Greeks to support him for Prime Minister as he has been the chief architect of massive tax hikes, including a second property tax put into electric bills that could lead to 500,000 homes having their power turned off because they can’t afford the giant hikes.
Venizelos briefed Papandreou about the attempt by the coalition government, appointed after Papandreou left office, to convince the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank to give Greece a second bailout of at least $169 billion and perhaps closer to $200 billion, and also write off 70 percent of its debt. More and more PASOK MP’s are reportedly unhappy that Papandreou won’t quit and has saddled the party with a legacy of defeat thus ruining its chances of regaining power. Papandreou also said he’s not worried about a call by prosecutors for a probe into whether he and his party deliberately and artificially inflated the country’s economic record to insure austerity measures. “We ourselves shall set up an investigative committee,” he said. New Democracy spokesman Yiannis Michelakis said that the decision by the judicial authorities to send the case to Parliament vindicates the conservatives and “raises a major political question.”