PASOK Schism, Venizelos Challenged

ATHENS – PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos’ leadership is under attack as the party plunged further in polls since serving in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras.

Venizelos, who is Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister, has until recently backed harsh austerity measures antithetical to the party’s principles, a stance that has driven its support down to 3.5 percent in the latest poll.

It got 44 percent in winning the 2009 elections but has faded toward oblivion since. Venizelos wants to create a new, broader center-left alliance called Democratic Alignment to replace PASOK, which led former party leader and previous Premier George Papandreou to call for a Congress and leadership vote.

Seven PASOK MPs have backed him, after four challenged him, showing a growing split in the party which has been hammered for supporting big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings. Venizelos is now backing off his support for those conditions, too late to save the party.

on Thursday publicly backed Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos and his plans for the party to play a leading role in a broader center-left alliance after ex-leader George Papandreou declared his opposition to the plan and called for an emergency congress followed by a confidence vote.

The seven deputies said they are in favor of the plan for PASOK to be at the heart of a new movement, Democratic Alignment, that would be created by what they called “open democratic processes.”

“We have to rise to the occasion and display the necessary spirit of unity, not return to the kind of infighting that helps neither the country nor the party,” the lawmakers said in their joint statement.

Their move comes after four PASOK MPs independently backed Papandreou’s request for party members to discuss Venizelos’s plans and to vote on whether they wanted him to continue on as party leader.

The latest rift comes as PASOK is still languishing in opinion polls. A new survey by the University of Macedonia for Skai TV indicates that PASOK’s support is running at just 3.5 percent, down from 4 percent last month.

SYRIZA leads the poll with 27.5 percent compared to New Democracy’s 20 percent. Both parties’ support is unchanged from the previous month. Golden Dawn is in third on 6.5 percent, followed by To Potami on 6 percent and KKE with 5.5 percent. Then comes PASOK.