08 January, 2004
Two-term Greek Prime Minister and ruling PASOK leader Costas Simitis on Wednesday opened the way for his succession ahead of upcoming general elections, which he called for March 7, bringing to a climax weeks of accelerated political developments and maneuvering within the ruling party.
Simitis, 67, said he would remain prime minister until the March 7 poll, whereas a new president of PASOK – which by all accounts will be Foreign Minister George Papandreou – will assume the government’s reins if PASOK wins the election, five months before the 2004 Olympic Games of Athens (August 13-29).
The reason Simitis cited for his decision to call early elections was Cyprus’ full membership in the European Union on May 1, which he said called for a fresh Greek government mandate in the face of efforts to unite the island republic prior to EU accession.
Greece's constitution calls for elections no later than May. The last elections took place in April 9, 2000. PASOK’s central committee will convene on Thursday to focus on the election of a new party president, with Papandreou expected to be the only candidate.
During a nationally televised address, Simitis said developments surrounding the Cyprus issue and efforts to ensure that the island republic unites before it officially joins the EU on May 1 would require a government with a fresh mandate.
On the issue of his succession, Simitis said the leader of a political party had to represent forces for renewal, while pointing to political models in other countries, where changes of leadership were commonplace. ''The egotism of permanency is a deeply conservative behavior,'' Simitis stressed, noting that leadership inflexibility was incompatible with a changing society. "I believe my decisions promote the interests of Greeks and Greece," he concluded.
On his part, the foreign minister later said: “Costas Simitis made a decision that is characterized by ethos, courage and a sense of responsibility. It is a challenge for all of us; a challenge to exceed ourselves to change. To change with respect, with certainty, with caution, but to change.”
In a sharp response, main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Costas Karamanlis called the prime minister’s move an “admission of failure”. He also echoed heightened ND criticism of late that “everyone within PASOK is collectively responsible”, an indirect reference to George Papandreou's share of responsibility in government policies and practice.
Karamanlis said Greek voters may not be given the opportunity to judge Simitis for the problems accumulated during his governance, they will, however, be asked to judge his government’s policies. Moreover, the ND leader referred to an “establishment”, adding that the true dilemma of the upcoming elections would be whether the country moves forward with new policies, a new leadership team and a new governance, or whether “we will retain the same washed-up policies, the same worn-out cadres and an arrogance of power”.
Finally, he referred to a “last-ditch communications spectacle without any substance”.
Earlier, Simitis was received by President Kostis Stephanopoulos at the presidential mansion, a short walk from the premier’s official office, for a much-anticipated briefing regarding the accelerated political developments of recent days. The meeting lasted for 65 minutes, with Simitis declining comment upon his departure from the president’s office. Simitis joined a joint Cabinet and ruling PASOK executive bureau meeting already in progress at his office only minutes later.
Stephanopoulos’ briefing came less than 24 hours after the premier received FM Papandreou at his home on Tuesday evening. Papandreou, the son of late three-term prime minister Andreas Papandreou and the grandson of George Papandreou, his namesake and a well-known post-WWII politician and prime minister in the 1960s, will be Simitis’ apparent successor, by all accounts.
Source: Athens News Agency