ATHENS – PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos has had some explaining to do to his cadre of advisors and party members and lawmakers fearful that the once-dominant party will disappear off the radar screen of Greek politics because of his never-ending support of harsh austerity measures that are antithetical to the group’s charter and as it has fallen to 5 percent in the polls.
Venizelos, the Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister in the coalition administration headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, has occasionally raised half-hearted objections to the tough conditions being imposed by the government on the orders of international lenders but always relented.
Now, on the heels of his support of new taxes and allowing banks to foreclose on the homes of people who can’t pay their mortgages because of big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions – lifting a ban that Venizelos had supported that was put in place by PASOK when George Papandreou was Premier two years ago – a number of party members are questioning his leadership.
Venizelos, at a meeting of the party’s central police committee on Dec. 22, insisted he’s the right man to lead the party even though it’s in danger of slipping under the three percent threshold needed to enter Parliament if there are new elections. If he hadn’t agreed to give his party’s 27 votes – there were 33 before defections and ejections – PASOK would be irrelevant backbenchers with no power.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party said it believes the government’s ruling parties will be so repudiated in the European Parliament elections in May, 2014 and local elections that the government will fall and the Leftists, who are opposed to the bailout terms, will take power.
If elections are held and PASOK, which would already be irrelevant if Venizelos hadn’t backed austerity to join the government, falls below the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament, the once-proud and once-dominant party founded by former Premier Andreas Papandreou four decades ago will disappear.
“The narrative is not working out and PASOK is in danger of foundering on the rocks if we do not change course,” said Thanos Moraitis.
Others, including former Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis and ex-party secretary Michalis Karchimakis, also called for Venizelos to rethink PASOK’s strategy.
Venizelos responded by insisting that PASOK was vital to the country exiting the crisis. He also pledged to be innovative in terms of the party’s strategy for the European elections and to draw up candidate lists in a “democratic and transparent” manner. He didn’t explain what either of those meant or what the strategy was other than continuing to support austerity.
He insisted, though, that the government’s popularity was larger than “is visible to the naked eye.” The coalition, however, that included the Democratic Left (DIMAR) which has since left, has gone from 179 votes in the 300-member Parliament to only a three-vote majority, leaving New Democracy and PASOK with a combined 25 percent of the vote in the most recent survey in which SYRIZA showed to be pulling away.
Only one in four Greeks now backs the ruling parties, a far cry from 2009’s elections which PASOK won with 44 percent of the vote and New Democracy got 33 percent, a combined 77 percent. SYRIZA, which now has about 22.5 percent support, got only 4.6 percent four years ago.
Greece is surviving on the vestiges of a $325 billion twin set of bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that has required Draconian measures in return for the money and Samaras and Venizelos have agreed to them because they said they have no choice. It has cost them dearly in the polls.