Democracy Stirs Inside Greece's Stale Politics

IN the Socialist party of Andreas Papandreou, a battle worthy of a Greek drama is brewing. Prime Minister Papandreou has survived prison, torture, and scandal in his long career. Now he is fighting opponents within his own Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), which he founded 20 years ago.

It is a fight he must eventually surrender. But there are no signs that Papandreou or his party are making any preparations for the day when Greece will be led by someone else.

On July 6, he faced a Pasok conference of 1,500 delegates and told them it was not time for him to step down. ''When the time comes,'' he said, ''I will guarantee the authentic and democratic voice of the membership of our movement in an open congress.''

Until then, he warned, his critics should keep their mouths shut, or face expulsion from the party. ''It is not possible to stay in government and criticize it openly,'' he said.

The leader faces an Oedipal struggle with young, more modern-minded technocrats who are itching to succeed him. His July 6 message was aimed at deputies like Vasso Papandreou (no relation), former European commissioner for Greece, and Theodoros Pangolos, former minister for European Affairs. In March, when Papandreou chose not to move into the largely ceremonial role of president, these two deputies went public with their own ambitions, a political risk that would have been inconceivable just a year before.

They called the prime minister unfit to hold office, and demanded he hand over power to a committee. Papandreou summoned a disciplinary committee that grilled the errant deputies but, in another break with the past, stopped short of expelling them.

Papandreou's king-like status in his own party follows a long struggle for power. He was imprisoned under Greece's military dictatorship. His jaw was broken under torture. He founded Pasok in 1974 from the various resistance groups that had overthrown military rule.

After his rise to power in 1981 he remained a revolutionary, the enfant terrible of Europe. He was openly defiant of the United States, although he had been educated at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He also initially resisted entry into the European Community (now the European Union), which Greece joined in 1981.

Political scandals,and an open affair with an airline stewardess who became his wife, prompted his ouster in 1989. But those who counted him out were premature: He returned to power in 1993 and was cleared of embezzlement and wiretapping charges.

If Papandreou does not name a successor, as many analysts say will happen, the scramble for power among the half-dozen contenders for leadership could cost the party its hold on government. Pasok deputies are aware that a similar power struggle inside the conservative opposition party, New Democracy, was behind Papandreou's return to office after he was ousted in 1989.

Vasso Papandreou and Mr. Pangolos represent a wing of Pasok that seeks the European Union as the way for Greece to emerge from its economic and foreign-policy troubles. They campaign under the banner of ''modernization.'' They have set themselves against the old school of Greek politics, of patronage and populism, which they see represented by Papandreou and his allies.

A similar division is emerging in the opposition party, New Democracy, between the current leadership and its founder, former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis. The conflict threatens to split the party, perhaps making it too weak to take advantage of the turmoil in Pasok.

It, too, is an Oedipal struggle between the young, modern-minded technocrats in both parties and the aging leaders, Mr. Mitsotakis and Papandreou. But one New Democracy deputy, Kostas Karamanlis, sees a happy ending to this drama. The days of the undisputed ''party god'' are ending, he says. ''We're moving toward something you could call a more Western, more European, even a more civilized democracy.''

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