Saying it was a publicity stunt, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis rejected PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos’ offer for the two parties to have a closer co-operation and consider merging.
They are partners in Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government although their party principles are antithetical to the New Democracy Conservatives, and have seen their support evaporating for backing continued austerity measures that hit their main constituency of workers, pensioners and the poor.
Venizelos, under challenge from dissidents and having lost eight of his 33 Members of Parliament to ejections and quitting the party, is set to have a congress of his members to try to shore up his deteriorating base with PASOK polling less than 7 percent of the vote. It won 44 percent in 2009 when then-leader George Papandreou was elected prime minister.
Together, the sinking leftists have only about 13 percent of the vote, a 5 percent drop from their dismal showing in last year’s elections. They are members of the government only because Samaras didn’t win enough of the vote to form a government.
Venizelos wrote to Kouvelis to invite him to talks in the buildup to PASOK’s congress, proposing that the Democratic Left (DIMAR) take an active part. The PASOK leader didn’t say if he would rule a combined party and shut out his colleague.
Kouvelis, a former Communist leader who has switched allegiance to backing the right-wing government that critics have denounced as authoritarian, tried to immediately distance himself from the fading Venizelos.
Kouvelis said Venizelos was trying to deflect attention from PASOK’s troubles by reaching out a hand and said that what was needed was “systematic and essential efforts at redefinition” of the Leftists identity. Venizelos called the response “awkward and defensive.”
The newspaper Kathimerini reported that in a letter to Venielos, Kouvelis said that his party “cannot be part of a pre-congress dialogue and internal exchanges within PASOK.” The decision is not only a “matter of principle,” Kouvelis said, but was taken because joining PASOK in such exploratory dialogue would “constrain rather than facilitate the procedure of rebuilding the broader area of the Democratic Left, social democracy, ecology and citizens’ movements.”
Despite his hope of remaining to the left, Kouvelis continues to support pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the use of riot police to break up strikes and protests. That has led to defections from the party with members saying he has betrayed its principles so he could be a member of the ruling coalition.