There is no doubt that the Socialist PASOK party, which had ruled Greece for decades and forms part of the ruling coalition today, has shaped the face of modern greek politics in many ways.
Last night, September 1st, the party celebrated 40 years since its leader’s, Andreas Papandreou, inaugural speech heralding the founding of the Panhellenic Socialist Party in 1974, months after the fall of the military junta which had plagued the nation for seven years. But not all went as expected in the glittering celebration in one of Athens’ most revered venues, the Zappeion Megaron. As soon as party leader (and current Minister of Foreign Affairs) Evagelos Venizelos, took to the podium the audience erupted in heckling and shouting, demonstrating their loud support for ex-Prime Minister, and son of party founder, George Papandreou.
PASOK has seen its popular base dwindle with voters abandoning the once-powerful socialist stronghold. PASOK has fallen well below 10% in recent elections; it was just 2009 however, that George Papandreou led the party to victory with nearly 44% of the votes!
The party’s decision to implement fundamental structural reforms and invite the IMF and the EU to oversee the process has been blamed for the onset of social unrest and a crippling rise in unemployment, now stuck at around 30% of the workforce. Further criticism befell PASOK when after George Papandreou’s resignation and a series of electoral defeats, new party leader Venizelos actually entered into a coalition government with ‘sworn political enemy,’ the conservative New Democracy party and Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras.
Evagelos Venizelos has been repeatedly criticized within his own party and large parts of the electorate for orchestrating Papandreou’s departure and working behind the scenes to ensure his ascend to the party’s leadership. The uneasy alliance with New Democracy has failed to convince voters that PASOK is en route to gain control of the country’s fortunes any time soon and it remains to be seen whether George Papandreou still has a role to play as the party continues to struggle to find its footing in the new reality.