Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ uneasy coalition government faces its toughest test this week when a $17.45 billion spending cut and tax hike plan aimed squarely at workers, pensioners and the poor goes to Parliament for a vote on Nov. 7, while Greeks are staging a 48-hour general strike that will shut down services, including mass transit.
Commuters face a hellish week of trying to get to work or wherever they need to go. Most public transit, on a staggered basis, will be shut Nov. 5-7, including the metro, buses, taxis, trams, trolleys, trains, ferry boats and air traffic controllers at Athens’ international airport said they will also conduct work stoppages.
Lawyers are striking for the entire week and prosecutors, already on strike, said they won’t come back to work until Nov. 18. With judges having earlier conducted work slowdowns, the country’s judiciary system, already with 10-year backlogs in some cases, has a mountain of work piling up.
Municipal workers protesting plans to slash over 3,000 jobs are expected to hold sit-ins at city halls, garbage truck depots and waste management facilities on Nov. 5, the same day that journalists are holding another strike and a decision on allowing limited metro services so that protesters can attend anti-austerity rallies in Athens is expected to be reached.
Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, is ruling with his otherwise rivals, the PASOK Socialist and tiny Democratic Left, giving them 177 of the 300 votes in Parliament, but defections are mounting and analysts expect that while the measures will pass, that as few as 153 to 157 lawmakers will support them.
That could give Samaras a short-lived victory as it will leave Greek society bitterly divided. The Premier, who campaigned against austerity measures, said he had no choice but to give in to the demands of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts. A $38.8 billion installment has been delayed until the reforms are approved and Samaras said Greece will run out of money on Nov. 16 unless they are.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos is struggling to keep his fading party together in the wake of fury over his mishandling of a list of 2,059 Greeks with $1.95 billion in deposits in a Swiss bank that he didn’t check for tax evasion when he was finance minister in a previous government, and some Socialist members said they will vote against the package.
The Democratic Left of Fotis Kouvelis, with 16 votes, could oppose it in en masse as well unless Samaras relents and eases harsh changes to labor laws. Otherwise, Democratic Left could leave the government, a prospect that could intensify pressure on Samaras and even threaten his administration.
The Samaras government, whose point man in negotiations with the Troika is Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras, is expected to stay in talks with his partners as well as the lenders right up to the last moment of voting, which will occur while Greeks are protesting in the streets. Labor unions called the strike, the fourth one in six weeks.
New Democracy has 127 lawmakers and PASOK has 33, but half of them last week voted against a plan to privatize state enterprises and sell or lease state properties and left the party, which has fallen to 6.5 percent of the vote, in a state of near-mutiny.
Venizelos, who strongly backs the austerity measures that are antithetical to the party’s principles, said he would eject from the party any of his members who vote against it. He abstained from the vote on privatization and didn’t take a stand, but chastised his MP’s who opposed it. Greek media reported that at least 26 PASOK MP’s will vote for the reform package, however, enough to create a slim majority.
Samaras has promised the austerity measures – another in a round that began in 2010 and have put nearly two million people out of work, closed 68,000 businesses and is shrinking the economy by 7 percent, would be the last but there are many skeptics. “It is easier for someone to believe in Father Christmas than to believe that these will be the last,” said Euclid Tsakalotos, a member of the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).
(Sources: Kathimerini, AP)