PASOK Feud: Venizelos vs. Papandreou

ATHENS – The once-dominant but now-disappearing PASOK Socialists who are coalition partners in the government of Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras are falling apart in an internecine battle between current leader Evangelos Venizelos and former Greek premier George Papandreou.

Papandreou voted against a key banking article in a reform bill filed by the coalition government of Samaras. Venizelos was named Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister after backing austerity measures.

But unable or unwilling to eject Papandreou, or Apostolos Kaklamanis, another PASOK MP who defied voting orders, Venizelo was left to deliver a stinging rebuke against the former premier, widening a schism in the party that boiled over when its MPs disbanded a meeting even before it began on April 1 because the tension was so high.

The meeting of the party’s parliamentary group ended when Thanos Moraitis and Costas Triantafyllou walked out after complaining that the criticism being aimed at Papandreou from other deputies was unfair and damaging for the party’s unity, it was reported.

Other lawmakers expressed dismay at Papandreou and Kaklamanis’s failure to support both articles of the omnibus bill although some other PASOK MPs said they were also going to vote against the bill because of reservations they had, before relenting, even though one said he couldn’t be persuaded and dared Venizelos to eject him.

Papandreou’s decision to oppose legislation that allows the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility (HFSF) to suffer a loss on the shares it has bought in Greek banks reopened a long-running and bitter dispute with Evangelos Venizelos, his successor as PASOK leader and the coalition’s deputy prime minister.

The latter allegedly launched a stinging verbal attack against Papandreou at his office in Parliament and criticized both dissenting MPs publicly.

Venizelos stopped short of ousting the two lawmakers as that would have led to the government losing its parliamentary majority. Papandreou insisted that he has no intention of threatening the coalition’s stability but his vote against the article was a “principled stance,” which he didn’t allow other PASOK MPS to make when he was imposing pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions on orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).

“I did not and I would not jeopardize the majority in Parliament,” he told Bloomberg TV. “This was a personal vote, a political vote and it was of course a statement on some of the things which I think that we need to see not only in Greece but in Europe,” he said.

“I can understand that in very difficult circumstances we may need at some points to privatize with the taxpayer taking a hit. But to put that into law so that this is sort of a policy ad infinitum, particularly when Greeks have sacrificed so much, to take the losses again and again for bailouts of banks, I am against that in principle,” he said.

Asked whether the government can bring the adjustment program to a successful closure and stay in power until 2016, Papandreou said he believed the coalition could complete its four-year term. “I think it’s possible,” Papandreou said making clear that he will continue to support the coalition.

Venizelos’s predecessor also ruled out speculation that he plans to step down from PASOK, the party founded by his father Andreas Papandreou, and establish his own political party. “These are simply rumors,” he said.

Papandreou insisted that the government could see out its four-year term, which ends in 2016. But the latest round of infighting has prompted concern about whether PASOK will be able to be a steady coalition partner, especially if it performs poorly as part of the Olive Tree alliance at the May 25 European Parliament elections.

With PASOK polling 3-5 percent, Venizelos has desperately attached himself to the new center-left movement but the newspaper Kathimerini said it was told by sources it didn’t name that Venizelos suggested Papandreou is deliberately trying to undermine the Olive Tree, which he has refused to back.

Sources close to the ex-premier, though, argued that Venizelos is simply trying to find excuses because he knows the election results will be disappointing.

Former PASOK MP and minister Theodoros Pangalos suggested he might not even vote for the Socialist party. “I am in half a mind to vote for (New Democracy leader Antonis) Samaras to ensure there is political stability,” he told Vima FM.

While Papandreou and Venizelos had been careful to appear united during public appearances, there is long and deep-seated enmity between them, especially after Venizelos tried to topple Papandreou from the party’s leadership when the former premier had lost twice to New Democracy’s then-leader Costas Karamanlis for the Prime Minister’s post.