Despite the departure of one of his coalition partners, the tiny Democratic Left (DIMAR) Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said his New Democracy party will move ahead with reforms with a united front with his other partner, the PASOK Socialists.
With PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos likely to become Deputy Prime Minister and his party rewarded with a number of Cabinet positions in a shakeup, after the Socialist chief accepted a compromise to rehire some of the staff of the national broadcaster ERT that was shut down, the government now will have no internal dissension.
The irony is that the new partnership of New Democracy and PASOK means Greece will be ruled by the same parties blamed for creating the country’s economic crisis biy packing public payrolls – at agencies such as ERT – for generations in return for votes, a practice said Samaras said he wanted to undo despite complaints from ERT workers that he had stuffed it with high-paid no-show advisors in the last year.
In the year since the coalition was formed with the three parties, Venizelos and DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis occasionally objected to austerity measures being imposed by the government on the orders of international lenders, and the tension over the firing of all 2,656 workers at ERT was the last straw for Kouvelis.
But Samaras, whose new administration with PASOK still guarantees them a three-seat majority in the 300-member Parliament, said he will now continue to finish out the last three years of his first term and keep pushing the reforms he said have put the country back on track for a miracle economic recovery, despite record unemployment of 27.4 percent.
“The government had a difficult time over the past few days, but stood on its feet and continues with renewed determination,” he said in an interview with the newspaper To Vima shortly after Kouvelis walked on June 21.
The government crisis ignited scenarios of early elections for a few hours, but Samaras and Venizelos dismissed them, vowing to move forward so that Greece does not face the risk of political uncertainty which could derail policies introduced to overcome the financial crisis.
The two leaders were to meet on June 23 to discuss the government’s shake up after the resignations of DIMAR’s ministers and update the coalition agreement which was reached after last year’s general elections.
Local analysts said they expect that the two leaders will also have the backing of several independent legislators in key votes regarding the implementation of the austerity and reform program signed with international lenders three years ago.
Samaras told To Vima that “there will be no problems” in ongoing negotiations with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank lenders over the next steps Athens needs to make to secure further bailout aid under deals to avert a meltdown.
Troika auditors are expected back to the Greek capital in early July to finish a review of Greece’s fiscal adjustment program before the release of more funds in an ongoing second bailout of $173 billion. On the agenda are delays in pledged mass dismissals of civil servants, the privatization program and ways to fill a possible funding gap in 2014.
The crisis over ERT’s shutdown, the first major mass cuts of civil service jobs under a law ratified by the Greek parliament in spring, highlighted the challenges lining ahead, and the failure to lure even a single bidder for the state gas company DEPA has created a one billion euro ($1.3 billion) hole in budget plans.
Samaras’ decision to close down the state television and radio broadcaster overnight on June 11 and replace it with a new organization on reduced staff by September was met with an outcry by trade unions, political parties and jolted the government.
Samara insists that ERT had become a characteristic example of waste of funds and corruption and appears determined to proceed with the plan for its overhaul and the layoffs of up to 15,000 civil servants by 2015.
The majority of Greek citizens support him, according to the results of an opinion survey released during the weekend. About 54.4 percent of respondents in the poll conducted by Rass polling firm for newspaper Typos tis Kyriakis (Sunday’s Press), agree with the layoffs in the public sector.