Moving forward after the withdrawal of one of his coalition members, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras formulated a new alliance with the other coalition partner, the PASOK Socialists, in a new cabinet that gives his partner key ministerial positions.
Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, said the two-party government would be more cohesive and less divisive over reforms demanded by international lenders, especially with the appointment of PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
“This government doesn’t have a moment to lose,” Samaras told his new cabinet shortly after the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday (June 25th). “Stability is today more necessary than ever.”
He added, “Each of us has his own political beliefs, but the overriding ideology right now is saving the country.” The focus will be to move away from austerity and toward growth and reform, Samaras said.
Greece has also promised to shed 15,000 public-sector jobs by the end of next year to meet demands of the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, a condition that led Samaras to close national broadcaster ERT and fire all 2,656 workers.
That precipitated a crisis that seemed to threaten new elections, which would have been the third in little more than a year, when one of his partners, the Democratic Left (DIMAR), quit the government.
Venizelos, along with DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis, insisted Samaras restore ERT and bring back workers but accepted a compromise that could temporarily rehire as many as 2,000 workers until a replacement broadcaster is created, with 1,000 to 1,200 former ERT workers.
The ND-PASOK alliance has a bare majority of 153 seats in the 300-member parliament, but reportedly can count on a handful of the 14 Independents to go along with its plans, and perhaps even occasional support from DIMAR, Kouvelis said.
With PASOK lagging in polls with 4 to 5 percent, just above the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, critics said Venizelos is focused on keeping himself in the limelight. He got the top jobs in the new government in a move that led to Samaras creating two more cabinet positions after promising to reduce the size of his administration.
Marios Evriveavis, a Professor of International Relations at Panteion University in Athens, said the alliance is a case of politics making strange bedfellows. “There is mutual discomfort in both parties with New Democracy critics saying [Samaras] is resurrecting PASOK, and some PASOK people disappointed that Venizelos got the benefit. He took the plum positions,” Evriveavis told Southeast European Times.
The change in government comes as Troika envoys are set to return to Athens in July to review the pace of lagging reforms, including how to fill what could be a billion-euro hole in budget plans when the government failed to get a single bidder for its gas company DEPA in a privatization program.
Coupled with less-than-expected tax revenues, austerity measures imposed by the government on Troika orders have worsened a six-year recession and created a record 27.4 percent unemployment rate.
Antonis Klapsis, Head of Research at the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy in Athens, told SETimes that, “Having a coalition government of New Democracy and PASOK is something new and quite challenging. The path is not full of roses, but I believe that they will try their best. They have only one alternative: to succeed. If they don’t, then the future of Greece won’t look very promising.”
It could be a tough sell to the Greek people, whose protests, strikes and riots against pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions brought down the previous government of George Papandreou, the former PASOK leader who was elected in 2009 with 44 percent of the vote but lasted only two years.
New Democracy and PASOK were blamed for creating the country’s crushing economic crisis and staggering debt by packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of needless workers for 40 years in return for votes.
The major opposition party, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), said the new government won’t last the remaining three years of its term. “The new cabinet is tailor-made for the policies of the memorandum [with the Troika] and for the government’s plans to complete the political plundering of incomes and the sell-off of public goods,” said SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.
Kostis Ifantis, an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Athens, said political expediency will rule as much as the two parties. “It will work because of necessity,” he told SETimes of the alliance. “We have the people who brought the country to its knees, but the crisis hasn’t brought any new people to the fore,” he added.
(Used by permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)