ATHENS – With his party’s lead in upcoming elections shrinking, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras may not be able to get the title he most covets – Prime Minister – as reports emerged that the opposition PASOK Socialists will demand an alternate leader – with the name of New Democracy Vice-President Stavros Dimas emerging. Dimas is currently serving as Foreign Minister in a shaky hybrid government of the two major parties who are rapidly losing ground to parties opposed to the austerity measures PASOK and New Democracy support as a condition of $325 billion in international rescue loans.
The newspaper Kathimerini reported that Dimas’ name was being floated as a compromise candidate in a new coalition government as neither major party has enough support now to win outright. Samaras has also said he would reject a coalition administration, but has been giving contradictory signals. New Democracy’s support is hovering around 20 percent, compared to less than 15 percent for PASOK, which is now headed by former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who took over from George Papandreou, who resigned five months earlier as Prime Minister in the wake of incessant protests, riots and strikes against the pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that have enraged Greek society.
If Dimis is appointed, it would mean that Greeks would have a Prime Minister for whom they didn’t vote. Dimas, 70, is a former European Commissioner who had an indistinct role overseeing the environment. He is an American-trained Wall Street banker, a profession that many Greeks have chosen as a target during the protests, blaming banks for the country’s economic catastrophe. With the likelihood that as many as eight or nine parties could be represented in the new Parliament after the May 6 election, the leadership could be even more fractured and Samaras may have to accept someone other than himself as Prime Minister if he wants a coalition. Otherwise, there could be yet another election.
The new government will be charged with continuing to implement austerity measures and find another $15 billion in cuts. They’ll have to begin the process of firing 150,000 state workers over the next three years from a public payroll bloated by generations of New Democracy and PASOK leaders hiring hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers in return for votes. Samaras opposed austerity under Papandreou, but supported it to be a player in the current coalition. Now he says he opposes it again and would try to lower taxes and raise pensions, although he said he supports Troika demands that included raising taxes and lowering pensions.
Samaras reportedly said that even if he can’t be Prime Minister that the country’s leader would have to come from his party, which he leads, creating the embarrassing position of New Democracy’s second-in-command being Greece’s Premier. Outgoing interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice-President, said he’s not interested in the role again. Dimas, who prefers to stay out of the limelight, could get the nod, Kathimerini noted, to satisfy Venizelos, who said he wants his party to play a leading role in any uneasy power-sharing government.
Such is the uncertainty and high anxiety now that most Greeks say they oppose the bailouts because of the austerity measures, but don’t want to leave the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro. The only way to stay in is to accept the very measures they oppose. A poll by the MRB company showed that 26.2 percent of respondents intend to vote for a party opposed to the unpopular Troika rescue, although 66 percent said Greece should stay in the Eurozone but adopt an alternative recovery plan, while 13.2 percent said the country should drop the euro altogether.
The austerity measures have created 21.8 percent unemployment and put more than one million people out of work, even as the government has failed to collect from tax cheats owing the country more than $72 billion, an amount that would have prevented the need for bailouts and austerity. With the country sinking deeper into recession, whoever is Prime Minister will have the difficult challenge of enforcing more austerity that Greeks oppose. One-third of them combined support the two ruling parties who imposed it on them, creating a curious dilemma for the election in which 64 percent of Greeks said they want another coalition, even though PASOK and New Democracy are bitter rivals and tried to undermine the reforms they publicly supported by filing legislation to favor their own interests. They also gave negative reviews to the Papademos Administration, which engineered a second bailout of $173 billion to go along with a first for $152 billion, which continued the austerity, although Greece also got a $134 billion write-down in debt.
(Sources: Kathimerini, AFP)