ATHENS – With the PASOK Socialist party imploding into near-nothingness and beset by infighting over who should be its new leader when former Prime Minister George Papandreou steps aside, just before new elections for Prime Minister are held, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos says he won’t run and will support Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who has imposed waves of pay hikes on Greeks. Loverdos said he wants to stop the growing divide in PASOK, which has slid to 12 percent approval ratings among voters behind four other parties, including the front-running New Democracy conservatives, its bitter rival.
“We have decided with Mr Venizelos to fight together for the country and within PASOK,” he said. “We will proceed together.” They had been considered the leading challengers to assume control of PASOK, but Papandreou is clinging to power and there is growing disgruntlement that he’s keeping the party tethered to the past, and his own failures and resignation as the country’s leader more than two months ago. Papandreou had been in power since 2009 but quit in the wake of dozens of protests, riots and strikes against austerity measures he put on Greeks at the demand of international lenders giving the country a series of $152 billion in rescue loans to keep its debt-choked economy from crashing.
Five years ago, Loverdos backed Venizelos to replace Papandreou, who had lost two consecutive Prime Minister races against New Democracy’s Costas Karamanlis, whom he finally beat in 2009 before it was revealed the government had lied about the sinking economy, strapping Papandreou with the task of trying to keep the country from going under.
Loverdos and Venizelos had been among the favorites to succeed the current PASOK leader; George Loverdos didn’t say how he would work together with Venizelos, who would have the unenviable task of trying to convince Greeks to support him although he has doubled their property and income taxes, taxed the poor, and led government policies to slash pensions and lay off 150,000 workers. Loverdos, who has been brutally critical of Papandreou now but supported him as Prime Minister, said the party would only be hurt by continued bickering and jockeying for leadership, tactics which have turned off many Greeks, some 35 percent of whom said they now don’t trust any political parties and won’t vote. “Our initiative may play a positive role in uniting the party,” said Venizelos, although some analysts said the party is on the verge of extinction.
PASOK has been floundering in the polls and public perception, especially in the wake of the admission by another possible leadership candidate, Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, that his duties as then Public Order Minister prevented him from having the time to read a memorandum from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank providing the country’s lifeline of bailout monies.
The party’s election for a new leader is scheduled for March, barely ahead of elections for Prime Minister, which would give its candidate scant time to campaign, prompting a number of party leaders and PASOK Members of Parliament to say they may try to force out Papandreou, who has largely been absent and attended the conference of Socialist International as its President in Costa Rica and then set off for Israel while his party disintegrated. The party’s Parliamentary group is due to meet on Feb. 2 and could call for a vote of no confidence in Papandreou.