Greek Lawmakers OK $40 Million for Their Parties

The Greek Parliament was nearly one-third empty when lawmakers voted to give their parties taxpayer money

ATHENS – As Greeks struggle under a barrage of pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the coming firing of 150,000 state workers, lawmakers have approved nearly $40 million in government aid for their own political parties as taxpayers will have to pay for their campaigns in the upcoming election to elect a new Prime Minister. The party aid won easily, by a vote of 155-56, with three voting present and 86 absent. The election to replace interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’ shaky hybrid government of feuding PASOK and New Democracy ministers is expected to be April 29 or May 6.

Papademos took over five months ago after former Prime Minister George Papandreou resigned in the face of incessant protests, riots and strikes against the austerity measures that have enraged Greeks but were demanded by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), which is giving Greece $152 billion in a first bailout and set to allocate a second for $173 billion to prop up the failed economy. Greece is staggering under $460 billion in debt created by generations of PASOK and New Democracy administrations packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers in return for votes, a practice unlawful in most other countries but a common practice here.

While PASOK and New Democracy have seen their combined support three years ago fall from 80 percent to about 35 percent now even while ideological rivals, they both support the austerity measures and are favored to finish 1-2 in the elections> Anti-bailout parties nonetheless are gaining in popularity and polls show as many as eight or nine political parties could be represented in the new Parliament and that another coalition looms.

But party leaders want taxpayers to pay for their campaigning and got their Members of Parliament to approve the deal which will give them about $39.5 million. The money will go only to the five parties elected in the previous election and means PASOK, New Democracy, the Communists, Coalition of the Radical Left SYRIZA and far Right-Wing LAOS – which has fallen below the three percent threshold needed to gain seats. They will receive an overdue state installment from 2011 and two payments in one lump sum for this year. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and PASOK’s new leader, Evangelos Venizelos, who, as Finance Minister raised taxes to exorbitant rates, will benefit the most from the funding.

Interior Minister Tassos Giannitsis, who defended the legislation, said he hoped the parties would keep their pledges to use the money to pay unpaid staff and bills but there are no controls on how the money is spent. While they will benefit, LAOS and SYRIZA voted against it, as did smaller parties that have emerged since the last elections: the Democratic Left, Democratic Alliance and Independent Greeks. Communist lawmakers voted “present.”

Democratic Alliance leader Dora Bakoyannis said she would take legal action after claiming the legislation was unconstitutional. Other MPs said it was not right for the parties to be receiving this money at a time when Greeks were suffering under austerity and as politicians are afraid to go out in public without being heckled or assaulted from furious Greeks. Deputy Defense Minister Yiannis Ragousis of PASOK abstained and quit the government while only three other PASOK lawmakers, including former Deputy Labor Minister Anna Dalara, opposed the measure. Two New Democracy deputies, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Militiadis Varvitsiotis abstained instead of taking a position that would have their position registered.

While Greece’s parties have received some $721.5 million from the public treasury over the last 10 years, they owe banks – who are dependent on them for legislation supporting the industry – some $328 million. They have made no effort to pay it while banks are demanding that beleaguered workers’ pay their loans despite having their pay cut 30 percent and taxes raised, even doubled in some cases.