ATHENS – After leading his party to its worst-showing in elections since it was founded in 1974, new PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos has put the onus on his political council, forcing their resignation after a scathing speech in which he said PASOK is “rotten” and needs to be rebuilt, preferably by bringing in new and younger blood. PASOK wound up third in the May 6 general elections with just 13.19 percent of the vote, losing 2.1 million supporters from 2009 when it came in first.
Earlier this year, Venizelos took over from former party leader and previous Prime Minister George Papandreou, who resigned both positions after two years of protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures he imposed on the demand of international lenders. That led to formation of a coalition government with the party’s bitter rival New Democracy Conservatives who reversed their opposition to pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions insisted upon by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts to prop up the country’s bankrupt economy.
The crisis was blamed on the two parties taking turns over the last 38 years hiring hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers in return for votes, along with corruption, tax evasion, inefficiency, bureaucracy and an uncompetitive economy based on agriculture and tourism that pushed away foreign investors.
Political groups opposed to the austerity measures won 68 percent of the overall vote, with even the first place finisher of New Democracy gaining only 18.88 percent of the vote, not enough to control the Parliament. Conservative leader Antonis Samaras failed to form a coalition, as did the surprise second-place Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras and then Venizelos. Greek President Karolos Papoulias will make one last attempt to form a unity government or Greeks will have another election, set for June 17, amid fears that if anti-austerity parties win the Parliament they could renege on the Troika reforms, which could lead to the loans being stopped and the country being forced out of the Eurozone and back to the drachma.
A new poll shows SYRIZA already with 23.8 percent of the vote, up from 16.76 percent, enough to win the next round. Tsipras said he wants Greece to stay in the Eurozone but wants to nullify the austerity measures he said have impoverished Greeks. The country is in a fifth year of a deep recession with 21.7 percent unemployment, more than 111,000 businesses closed and another 1,000 a week going under. Of the seven parties that won enough seats to be in Parliament, the poll shows New Democracy falling to second and PASOK still in third, but with only 10.8 percent of the vote, a near-total repudiation of the party.
Venizelos, who has been called a brilliant orator and lawyer, drove his party out of popular appeal when, as finance minister in the previous shaky coalition, he doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor. Seeing support for PASOK evaporating in polls before the last election, he said he wanted to renegotiate some of the terms of the measures he imposed, but it was too late to save the party.
Venizelos said a simple shake-up of the group’s political council was not enough and that it needed a “rebirth” and a new leader “in his 30’s” – a hint that the party wouldn’t accept a woman as its head. PASOK’s spokeswoman Fofi Gennimata said the creation of national committee to “rebuild” the party on the level of central as well as local government was imperative. Venizelos also expressed vehement criticism of former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who is in custody pending trial for money laundering, saying that the case of the Socialist stalwart, who is alleged to have pocketed millions of euros in kickbacks from defense deals, “epitomized a rotten system.”