Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, said his odd new partnership with his political rivals the PASOK Socialists will serve out the rest of the government’s term, three years, although their opponents doubt it.
Just after a new Cabinet with sworn in, including PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Samaras said the couple will have a happy political marriage despite their differing ideologies because both back austerity measures demanded by international lenders.
He said the unified front of the two parties who agree with each other will provide more cohesion than the three-party coalition he oversaw for a year before the Democratic Left (DIMAR) of Fotis Kouvelis withdrew rather than back Samaras’ closing of the national broadcaster ERT and the firing of its 2,656 workers.
Venizelos accepted a compromise to bring back as many as 2,000 workers temporarily until a new entity called NERIT, with only 1000-1200 worker is set up. He had also insisted on no firings but changed his mind when offered a power-sharing deal which will give him plum positions in the government and prevent new elections that could have seen PASOK, with 4-5 percent of the vote, marginalized almost into non-existence.
Addressing the members of his new cabinet in Parliament following a swearing-in ceremony presided over by Greek President Karolos Papoulias at the Presidential Palace earlier in the day, the conservative leader said that the government’s immediate targets include concluding talks with the country’s international creditors, achieving a primary surplus, and preparing for the rotating European Presidency staring in January 2014.
“Our immediate priority is to return to recovery ahead of time, defeat unemployment, bring in investment, avoid new measures and create jobs for the youth,” Samaras said. “We have no choice but to succeed and we are determined to succeed,” he said.
Samaras said the government needs stable steps in order to implement all the necessary reforms. “The country has no time to waste,” he said. “Each of us has his own political beliefs, but the overriding ideology right now is saving the country,” he said.
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, said its leader Fotis Kouvelis, who nonetheless was miffed at the way the ERT closing was handled and how it forced him out of the government.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras kept his job in the cabinet reshuffle which was announced by government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou who also kept his post. He used to work at ERT but became the point man for the government in criticizing the agency for mismanagement, which he never mentioned while he was there.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the first cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Stournaras said PASOK’s presence in the coalition “will make things easier” for the government.
With Venizelos snatching the Foreign Minister’s job, Dimitris Avramopoulos was moved to Defense Minister as Samaras, who said he would shrink the Cabinet when he was elected, increasing it to 19 positions from 17. New Democracy MP Adonis Georgiadis was put in charge of the country’s Health Ministry, a surprise in that he came to the party from the far-right LAOS and is seen as a lightning rod for criticism because of his strident style. He used to sell books on TV.
Pantelis Kapsis, a journalist and former government spokesman under the technocratic government of Lucas Papademos, was given the top post at a new ministry for the state broadcaster and is to be tasked with overhauling the defunct ERT.
Speaking to Mega TV, Kapsis stressed the need for a new public radio and television network that will be “free from political interference and partisan politics,” without mentioning charges by ERT workers that Samaras packed it with some 30 high-paid no-show advisors and had meddled in its affairs.
“I cannot say how we are going to handle this. I believe that (ERT) employees are part of the solution and I hope that they will too, at some point, come to see it this way,” Kapsis said. He didn’t say if he would refuse orders from political leaders to appoint their friends which was a common practice at ERT.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party said in a statement that the new alliance will be the “beginning of the end” for both of the ruling parties who had taken turns over the last 40 years packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes, helping create the country’s crushing economic crisis and the need for harsh austerity measures.
“The new cabinet is tailor-made for the policies of the memorandum and for the government’s plans to complete the political plundering of incomes and the sell-off of public goods,” SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said.