With his party locked in a dogfight ahead of next month’s critical elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is wooing voters with money and trying to convince them to keep stability in the government.
Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives are being sorely tested by the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which has led in most recent polls, leading him to counter that many austerity victims, and voters, would get 500 euros or more in a so-called “Social Dividend.”
Samaras also is urging voters to keep his government, which also includes the PASOK Socialists who are disappearing in the polls, cautioning that a SYRIZA win would upset what he says is a coming recovery from a four-year crushing economic crisis.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has predicted a big win and said the ruling parties would be repudiated and force national elections before the administration’s term runs out in 2016.
He said if he comes to power he would seek to revise the tough terms of 240 billion euros in bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) – pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings – or renege on the loans outright.
Samaras has said that would force Greece out of the Eurozone, leave the country broke and unable to borrow just as the government has floated its first bond since 2010 and leave the country locked out of the markets and broke.
Samaras presented New Democracy’s candidates for the May 25 European Parliament elections and unveiled the party’s main strategy, arguing that SYRIZA endangers a looming comeback.
“Do we want to be represented by those who are trying to put the country in a precarious position again, who want to tear up the old bailout memorandums and lead us to new ones? No,” said Samaras. “We want to exit the memorandums step by step,” he said, referring to the Troika deals he signed after opposing them when he was out of office.
Samaras claimed that Greece’s recent fiscal and economic achievements, such as producing primary budget and current account surpluses, as well as last week’s return to the bond markets had left SYRIZA without any ammunition to win.
“As we progress toward the European elections, we will talk about the things the prophets of doom cannot talk about,” he said, without mentioning what those were.
The SYRIZA challenge has forced the Conservatives to shake up their usual staid lineup of party acolytes and throw into the mix of 42 candidates to send to Brussels a mix headed by Theo Zagorakis, captain and MVP of Greece’s 2004 European soccer champions, along with politicians, lawyers, sportsmen, journalists and people from other walks of life instead of another line of political followers.
That also would counter part of the appeal of the surging new populist, anti-political party To Potami founded by former TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis that has risen to third in surveys, ahead of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party whose leaders have been jailed or arrested pending trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
PASOK, which got 44 percent of the vote in winning the 2009 elections, had fallen to as low as 3 percent after its leader, Evangelos Venizelos, backed austerity, for which he was made Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister.
Sensing disaster, he has tied his fortunes to an alignment with the new political group Elia (Olive Tree) a center-left mix of academics and intellectuals whom he disdained initially.
SYRIZA has tried to counter and his hoping that the recent revelation on a videotape showing a then top aide to Samaras telling Golden Dawn MP and spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris that the government fabricated the charges and influenced the judiciary would work against New Democracy.
Nikos Pappas, the head of Tsipras’s political office, said they want a televised debate with Samaras. Pappas also dismissed reports of an internal struggle in the party, which is a loose collection of Maoists, Trotskyites, Leninists, Communists, anarchists, ecologists and fringe elements.
That trouble arose when there was a hot discussion at SYRIZA’s central committee meeting about policies and ideology which led to the failure to name a full slate of 42 candidates.
“These differences did not stop our party rising from 4 to 27 percent,” Pappas said in reference to the 2012 elections in which it finished second and got enough of the vote so that Samaras had to seek coalition partners. SYRIZA’s remaining eight candidates were to be named on April 16.