December 17, 2012

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Founded in 1974 by Andreas Papandreou and having been the dominant political party in the fifth Hellenic Republic, PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) faced a humiliating defeat , tumbling to 12,3% in the recent June election from 44% that gained in 2009. Already back in the late 1990′s under the leadership of then PM Kostas Simitis, PASOK had been critised by many for loosing its socialist-progressive identity and shifting to a more center-right and neoliberal direction following the general shift of European Socialists’ policy. George Papandreou, the founder’s son, took over the party in 2004 but failed to win the elections of the same year and those of 2007. While in Opposition (2004-2009), Papandreou tried to capitalise his “surname-Papandreou” legacy and in parralel to promote “innovative” initiatives like: the party’s leader election directly from the members , the so called “e-democracy” , launching the agenda for green politics etc. However in terms of  economic policy George Papandreou not only remained loyal to his predecessor Simitis’ agenda but also appeared to be even more neoliberal. His surname legacy that moved nostalgic voters of his father, alongside with the famous populist slogan of the 2009 election campaign “Lefta Iparhoun” (We have the money- implying that he would put higher taxes to the bankers and the rich), were enough to give him the election victory and hence make him Prime Minister. He succeeded Nea Dimokratia’s Costas Karamanlis (nephew of the first PM after 1974 Konstantinos Karamanlis the Elder) , who was punished by the voters for his economic policy. But the actual winners so far were nepotism and a bipolar corrupted political system.

Soon after becoming Prime Minister, George Papandreou had to face the serious debt crisis which was getting more and more serious. However he was more concerned for initiatives like the open governement or the green politics agenda, rather than economy. In early 2010 international media and market analysts were critising his government for insufficiency. But still Papandreou was not seeking for any international alliances or for any other alternatives except for austerity and hence dragged the country to the so called “bailout programme” of Troika (IMF-EU-ECB) forcing his party’s MPs to vote for the Memorandum under pressure(1). May 6th 2010 the day of the crucial vote, three of his party’s MPs voted against the Memorandum with Troika; this date marks the beginning of the end for PASOK and the beginning of a turbulent period for the nation. Soon after the austerity policy,that he promoted in the context of Memorandum, started to be questioned; Opposition and many scholars sucessfully predicted that Memorandum would deepen recession and would finally be a disaster for the Greek economy and society. However Papandreou alongside with his party neoliberal wing members like Minister of Interior Yiannis Ragousis, Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos, Minister of Education Anna Diamantopoulou, Vice President Theodoros Pangalos and others with the orchestrated support from some of the country’s dominant media accused for “populism” and for “disaster tactics” all those who had a different opinion. One of them was the current Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, who at that time was calling himself and his party Nea Dimokratia as “anti-Memorandum”. George Papandreou became so impudent , that in late 2010 warned citizens to call for new parliamentary elections if his candidates in the regional election were not voted and furthermore he called those who were about to vote against them “anti-patriots”. (2) The same stressful and scaring rhetoric was later  adopted by Nea Demokratia party, especially after the November 2011 shift in support of Memorandum and is the main reason alongside with politicians anagelsia that reinforced extremism and in fact was the driver for the ultra nationalist Golden Dawn party boost, which presented itself  as a party “against everyone in the corrupted political system”

Falling himself inside the trap, that he was preparing for his rivals, unable to justify Greece’s dragging into IMF and the adoption of austerity, in state of panic that drove him to a series of political mistakes and under the huge social unrest, George Papandreou Cabinet collapsed twice in 2011; first time in June 2011 under the pressure of the tremendous strikes that swept Greece and second and fatal time in October when his idea for the referendum on the austerity policy forced him to resign and allow his successor, the technocrat and former Central Banker, Loukas Papadimos to form a tripartite “national responsibility”government with the participation of Samaras’ Nea Dimokratia and Karatzaferis ultra populist-nationalist LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally). In early 2012 he handed PASOK leadership to his successor and then Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos with whom he maintained a chilly and competitive relation;  Venizelos had been his opponent for the party-leadership election of 2007 and moreover was many times accused by Papandreou and his partners as the politician who expressed business and media interests in his Cabinet. In his farewell speech in early November 2011, Papandreou indicating how far he had been from the contemporary Greek reality, stated that “I am anti-authoritarian (sic) and I will remain such even if I am not in power” (3). The same person who was accusing his opponents for populism and  tried many times to link the Left Parties SYRIZA and KKE (Communist Party) with anarchist and anti-authoritarian violence and extremism, concluded his farewell prime ministerial speech by calling himself an…anti- authoritarian.

PASOK under Venizelos leadership was bemused; its members were resigning in hundreds every week and its MPs were often voting against the party line in the Parliament. Venizelos himself is often accused for arrogance; astonished viewers before the recent election, watched his hysterical attack against a citizen who raised a question about the famous Siemens scandal during a debate(4). PASOK lost in the elections almost 75% of his influence, a humiliating result that can only find equivalent in Ireland’s Fianna Fail result, which lost almost 60% of its influence in the February 2011 election, paying a heavy cost for its choice to put Ireland in Greece’s path in IMF-Troika “hug”. (5)

In the post-election period, Evangelos Venizelos despite receiving suggestions not to support the center-right Samaras governement and instead remain in the Opposition in order to redifine the party’s identity and policies, decided to support the tripartite government. The last few months the opinion polls show a further decline of PASOK’s influence hardly reaching percentages of 3,5-8%. Remaining party members abandon Venizelos and in the crucial parliamentary vote for a series of reforms imposed by Troika, 15 out of 33 PASOK MPs voted against. Venizelos himself did not participate in the voting procedure and instead he called for a special MP session, in which he warned  MPs who will not vote for the package of measures and cuts that he will expel them from the party. Earlier today one MP announced his resignation from the party and so did Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou former Deputy Foreign Minister , very experienced in European Union issues. Another MP from Central Greece, Katerina Mpatzeli, asked the party to elect a new leader while Giorgos Panagiotakopoulos, one of Andreas Papandreou closest partners in the 1980′s stated that PASOK is committing a suicide (6). Already the former Health Minister, Andreas Loverdos, has in fact resigned from PASOK but it seems that he will follow a more neoliberal direction, since he has been one of the most fanatic Troika policies supporter. Mrs Xenogiannakopoulou’s resign letter moved all the remaining Party members, since the former Deputy Foreign Minister stated that “PASOK never searched the reasons for the humiliating defeat in the recent election and instead chose to support the same stalemate policy; I cannot have any illusions anymore” (7)

After 38 years of existence, PASOK’s political life is concluding ;the main progressive pillar in Greece is now the main Opposition Party of SYRIZA-EKM (Radical Left Coalition-Unitary Social Front) under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras who gained 27% of the votes in the recent election and according to recent opinion polls is increasing its influence and is actually ahead of Samara’s Nea Dimokratia . The coincidence is that SYRIZA-EKM leader, Tsipras is only 38 years old and  was born only a few days after the military dictatorship collapse in the summer of 1974. Despite having accepted various attacks from the old bipolar system of PASOK-Nea Dimokratia and from some of the country’s dominant media, one can argue that Tsipras is the”coming man” in Greek politics. His party is still facing serious problems in terms of having a common political line, which sometimes causes confusion to the citizens. However SYRIZA-EKM is self proclaimed as a multi-wing party hence few could accuse Alexis Tsipras for being intolerant with  pluralism. Some journalists tried before the election to link him with the icon of Andreas Papandreou in the early 1980s, an icon of a populist and antieuropean socialist leader who was promising everything to everyone; unlike Papandreou who is assumed to be the only European Prime Minister who had even dismissed his minister while in flight(!)because he had a different opinion than his (8), Tsipras can accept other voices, even if this can be harmful for his party results. SYRIZA-EKM leader is also often mocked for his poor knowledge in English and for his terrible pronunciation which indeed he has(9) , but citizens often wonder George Papandreou and Antonis Samaras who were fluent in English ,did really “saved” the country from the financial disaster? A few months ago, Alexis Tsipras in an interview said :” do not expect from me personally or from SYRIZA-EKM to “save” you. People can be saved only thanks to their own power” (10).

The bipolar system of PASOK-Nea Dimokratia had based their success on clientism and on promises for the last few decades; the young leader of the so far uncoordinated SYRIZA-EKM party, seems  not to adopt the same tactics which stand as one of the reasons for Greece’s fail. Will he manage to be reliable if he is ever found in the Prime Ministerial office? Only time will show and without any shadow of doubt political time in Greece is currently very dense. Tsipras can count on the support of the active ages of 18-55, on the university laureates, on employees both of private and public sector, on students and unemployed,on small and medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) and on progressive strongholds in Greece like the island of Crete who strongly support him in polls (11). If this can be the epilogue of PASOK, someone must remember that some time ago these citizens’ votes safeguarded the party’s dominant role.

Pavlos Papathanasiou

  • (1) Papandreou admits Greece was dragged to IMF
  • (2) ”antipatriots” are the voters who do not vote for his candidates in the 2010 regional elections according to Papandreou (in Greek)
  • (3) Papandreou farewell speech -Nov. 2011 (in Greek)
  • (4) Venizelos hysterical attack against citizen video
  • (5) Guardian’s Paidrag Reilly article on the Fianna Fail electoral defeat
  • (6) PASOK “left” wing Panagiotakopoulos calls Venizelos to resign immediately (in Greek)
  • (7) Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou resignation letter (in Greek)
  • (8) How Andreas Papandreou dismissed his Deputy Foreign Minister while on flight in early 1980s (in Greek)
  • (9) Alexis Tsipras interviewed in English by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in…English
  • (10) Tsipras : do not expect me to “save” you (in Greek)
  • (11) statistics and voters’ profiles for the recent elections

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