Samaras Moves Toward Total Control



Greek PM Antonis Samaras (L) and his left-hand man, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos
Greek PM Antonis Samaras (L) and his left-hand man, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos

With the Greek Parliament in summer session, and only 100 of 300 members needed to be present, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has quietly sent the body  a bill that would allow public sector reform to be imposed by presidential decree rather than bringing legislation to lawmakers. Samaras earlier used a ministerial decree to shut down the public broadcaster ERT and fire all its 2,656 workers.

Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, is reportedly concerned about the possibility of dissidents undermining his coalition, which also includes the PASOK Socialists led by Evangelos Venizelos, who has become his Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and agrees with everything the Premier says, including the coming transfers or firing of as many as 40,000 public workers over the next two years.

The two parties have only 155 of the 300 seats in Parliament and only a one or two-vote majority during the summer session and some of its MPs have shown signs of bucking the government over the firings which were demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailouts.

The country’s crushing economic crisis was caused largely by the two parties packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of needless workers for generations in return for votes and they are now charged with dismantling the system they created.

Samaras has become more authoritarian but cannot rule without the backing of PASOK, which is polling at about 5 percent in the polls and without joining the coalition would be a marginalized irrelevancy. Together they have about 30 percent support.

Despite that, the coalition is favored by Greeks because the alternative is the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which wants to step away from the deal with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) but has no idea of where to get the money to keep afloat a bankrupt government.

Samaras and Venizelos have locked arms in agreement over reforms demanded by the Troika which will come back to Athens for another review on Sept. 9 to decide whether to keep loans coming. Virtually every review has followed the same procedure: the Troika makes demands, the government resists, the Troika threatens to withhold money and the government relents, although a number of critical issues are still being pressed.

Given the slim majority the government has it has been reported that Samaras and Venizelos have spoken to their MPs to order them to vote the way the government wants. In the past, rebels were immediately rejected but the majority is so slim that Samaras in an earlier vote only reprimanded his MP’s who didn’t follow his voting orders.

The fragile state of affairs has prompted some ND lawmakers to regret that Samaras did not call elections when the three-party coalition that included Democratic Left (DIMAR) collapsed in June. They believe the conservatives could have strengthened their position in Parliament as DIMAR left in opposition to the ERT firings. Venizelos had objected too but relented and was rewarded with power in the government.

DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis over the weekend repeated his belief that Samaras intended to go to the polls. “There was a plan for elections,” he told Efimerida ton Syntakton. “New Democracy believed that, even with two rounds of elections, it could gain power on its own.” Kouvelis said interventions from Greece’s Eurozone partners prevented the elections being called as he said Samaras wanted to consolidate power to gain complete control.