ATHENS – The once-mighty PASOK Socialists, now evaporating in the polls, marked their 40th anniversary ceremonies by attacking each other.
The party’s leader Evangelos Venizelos and former Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis took indirect shots at former leader and previous Premier George Papandreou, who was in London and didn’t show even though the party was founded by late father and former Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou.
George Papandreou won the 2009 elections with 44 percent of the vote but quit two years later after relentless protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures he imposed on orders of international lenders.
Venizelos, who Papandreou appointed as Finance Minister in a previous Adminstration, put PASOK in a coalition government headed by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras and continued to back pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings but now is trying to distance himself from his own actions and blamed Papandreou for the party’s fall from grace, to about 3-5 percent in surveys.
Although Venizelos noted in his opening remarks that Papandreou was “here in spirit,” he spent much of the rest of his time in indirect finger-pointing at his predecessor.
Declaring that those responsible for extracting the country from the crisis are now “feigning ignorance and attempting to shift the blame to others,” Venizelos was widely understood to be referring to Papandreou.
In another jab, Venizelos said it was Papandreou and not he who first reached out to New Democracy as a lifeline to keep PASOK in some sense of power and from going under.
Venizelos indicated that PASOK had endured the political fallout of the past four years of the country’s economic crisis. The party is still standing, he said.
“It’s shaken, mutilated, but it’s standing,” he said, adding that PASOK still had the ability to become the country’s “third pole” or third political force – a spot now taken by the ultra far-right Golden Dawn – with the Socialists near the bottom of the political heap.
Simitis piled on and mocked Papandreou’s campaign promise in 2009 that, “The money is there,” when it wasn’t. “Let us not forget the cost for our country of that phrase,” Simitis said.
He also indirectly offered his support for Venizelos, who was jeered by Papandreou supporters at an event organized by the Andreas Papandreou Foundation earlier, noting that “some prefer to remain stuck in the past.”
As for PASOK’s prospects, Simitis said it must first prove “that we are not just a caravan of old-school politicians seeking a new oasis as we were chased away from our old one.”