ATHENS – With their parties floundering in the polls as May 6 elections approach, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras has again asked Greeks to give him a mandate to rule the country outright. His bitter rival, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, who as Finance Minister doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, deepening Greece’s recession, has responded with a plan he said would boost development. The leaders of the two ruling parties, who are seeing their support wither in the face of bitter protests against the austerity measures they supported, and the rise of parties opposed to the harsh conditions, are pouring out a barrage of promises to beleaguered Greeks who are turning their backs on them in record numbers.
Samaras said if he gets a majority vote he would try to change the terms of a second bailout of $173 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that included more of the pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions that came with a first rescue package of $153 billion. He also wants to stop the coming firing of 150,000 state workers over three years, although he supported them as a member of his party and PASOK, under interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice-President. Venizelos helped engineer the bailout and agreed to the austerity; he also imposed losses of 74 percent on investors to write down Greece’s debt by $134 billion under a so-called Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal.
Troika officials have warned whoever wins that any attempt to change the conditions would result in the loans being shut off, boxing Samaras in. He opposed austerity when former PASOK leader George Papandreou was Prime Minister for two years before resigning on Nov. 11, 2011 after incessant protests, riots and strikes against austerity.
For the third time in recent weeks, he asked Greeks to give him a “clear mandate” that will allow his party to govern without having its “hands tied,” adding that if elected, ND would seek changes to Greece’s austerity program. New Democracy and PASOK have only a combined 33 percent of voter support and would have to form another coalition unless one gets a majority, but Samaras said he would reject it and could call for another snap election. PASOK and New Democracy are facing challenges from anti-bailout parties, including those formed by former Members of Parliament the parties ejected for opposing austerity, although New Democracy deputies had previously been warned they would be removed from the party if they supported it when Papandreou was Premier.
“We are asking for a clear mandate so that we can be a responsible government and can apply our entire program, without having to compromise with those who brought the crisis about,” he said, blaming PASOK without mentioning his party supported austerity and was blamed by the EU for lying about the economy when it was in power from 2004-2009, helping create the crisis.
Whoever wins is also faced with more Troika demands to either raise revenues by $15 billion or cut spending by the same amount, which could mean more pay cuts and tax hikes, although Samaras said he both supports and opposes them. He said he would lower taxes and raise pensions, although his party in the coalition voted for higher taxes and reduced pensions. Samaras said, “Greece is now the worst condition it has ever been during times of peace…Greek people will have the chance to determine their future in this election.”
He said he would present his party’s economic recovery program on April 19, but Venizelos beat him to the punch, outlining his ideas in a letter sent to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. In the letter, he offered five ways to support businesses, labor and the Greek households he pushed into deep debt but now said he wants to help. The austerity measures have worsened a deep recession and created 21.8 percent unemployment, but while Venizelos’ policies helped put more than a million people out of work, with the elections looming he said he wants to use EU funding to provide jobs. Under Venizelos, the minimum wage was also cut 22-32 percent and unemployment benefits reduced to $500 a month.
While Greece has also imposed deep losses on its banks through the PSI, the government said it will recapitalize them with $64.2 billion in bailout funds instead of using the money to shore up social services programs. Despite that, banks are not lending so Venizelos said he would let businesses access the Hellenic Deposit & Investment Guarantee Fund. He said he would also allocate funds to stalled major construction projects, and get rid of the notorious red tape which ties up investment and privatization. He did not say why he didn’t do that when he was Finance Minister.
“Nothing is easy, nothing is random. There is need of work, of a plan and consistency. Greeks are fighting and they will win,” wrote Venizelos.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Capital.Gr)