No Olive Tree Movement For Greece

Greece’s already-fractured Center-Left is in chaos, with plans for the vanishing PASOK Socialists to collaborate with The 58 Initiative, a collection of academics and intellectuals, falling apart even before they could get together.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, whose party is at 3-5 percent in polls ahead of May municipal and European Parliament elections even though it is serving Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives in a fragile coalition, had hoped linking himself with The 58 could stave off likely embarrassment at the polls.

But the initiative’s leader, Yiannis Boulgaris, who heads the collection of people frustrated with the fast-fading PASOK and other splintered Leftists parties, called Venizelos and told him the Initiative wouldn’t take part in a collaboration after they couldn’t agree on the changing plans on how people would cast ballots and amid criticism Venizelos was micro-managing the movement.

The new group was to be a so-called Olive Tree party in reference to a similar party in Italy and designed around the idea to have a Center-Left movement that was unified. But the famous infighting in Greek politics took over.

The 58 wanted to keep the status quo of having candidates on the ballot chosen by parties and not, as PASOK wanted, to let voters pick who they wanted to vote for on the ballot by putting a cross next to their names.

That idea was embraced by Samaras, who Venizelos serves as his Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, rewarded with the titles after backing harsh austerity measures imposed by the government on the orders of international lenders.

Confusion was said to reign between the two sides as neither seemed to know what the other wanted nor how to get it, with PASOK in a panic mode as the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) has taken the lead in polls.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who is opposed the terms of two bailouts with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) said the ruling parties and he will come to power next year and force a renegotiation or Greece will walk away from the $325 billion it owes, leaving the country broke.

Compounding the uncertainty, some members of The 58 disagreed with their leader, setting up a three-way schism of doubt. “It will not participate in the procedures or in the negotiations to draw up a euro voting list. It does not refer to names and there will be no candidates representatives of the 58 listed on the ballot,” the Initiative statement said.

The 58 indirectly blamed Venizelos, saying he was defensive and trying to micro-manage and take over the joint effort.

The 58 officials stated they would participate in a political conference on March 8-9 with European Parliament President Martin Schulz trying to restructure the democratic left by supporting the European Socialists and Democrats but not PASOK.

There was disarray among the Center Leftists as tension was reported high between the two camps.

Boulgaris said 20 of his members jumped ship on the Olive Tree idea and he was left with only 38 but it wasn’t clear if the Initiative would go on with a reduced number.

The 58 Initiative has decided to be only observers without any political power nor form a party. But it said anyone left in the Initiative who disagrees with the disagreements and wants to agree with PASOK instead of agreeing with the Initiative can still run, even though the Initiative won’t recognize them

Meanwhile, noted TV journalist Stavros Theodorakis said he was giving up journalism to set up yet another Leftist movement in Greece to be called To Potami (The River) but he said there wouldn’t be any public gatherings, posters not traditional campaigning. He didn’t say how he’d attract any interest.