ATHENS – Hoping to overtake the poll-leading major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in the last days before the critical Jan. 25 elections, Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said he would cut taxes he had raised and said his party would preserve Greece in the Eurozone.
SYRIZA has maintained a slight lead on the back of the vow of its leader, Alexis Tsipras, to renegotiate the harsh terms of austerity Samaras imposed on orders of international lenders.
Tsipras said he would also walk away from the debt of 240 billion euros ($306 billion) owed the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) if he couldn’t get a better deal, which could push Greece out of the Eurozone.
Samaras has portrayed SYRIZA and Tsipras as economic extremists who would halt a burgeoning recovery from a crushing economic crisis that was caused largely by New Democracy and its coalition partner, the fading PASOK Socialists, going on wild spending binges and runaway patronage hiring for decades in return for votes.
In a speech before the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Samaras said if he’s elected again that he would roll back the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 25 percent and scale back the hated unified property tax (ENFIA), starting with a 7 percent cut this year. He said he had been necessary to raise it to satisfy the Troika.
He said SYRIZA had a confused message and claimed that it would impose a “barrage of taxes,” contrary to what it had pledged and criticized the Leftists’ plan to rehire thousands of fired public workers and reverse the sale of state properties and entities.
SYRIZA said it could afford to reverse austerity by instituting a fairer tax system and going after tax cheats and corruption, a common campaign pledge by political parties that has not happened to any extent.
Curiously, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who was made Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister by Samaras in return for backing the firing of workers, has reversed course and said he could work with SYRIZA after saying he couldn’t.
With his party barely above the 3 percent threshold needed to win seats in Parliament – little more than five years after winning the national elections with 44 percent – Venizelos told the Italian newspaper La Stampa: “Tsipras is like Harry Potter but if necessary we will cooperate with them.”
The slinging came after a poll by the University of Macedonia for SKAI showed that SYRIZA has opened its lead to 6.5 percent after it had been in the range of 1.8-3.4 percent in previous surveys.
The poll gave SYRIZA 33.5 percent to 27 percent for New Democracy with the new anti-politician To Potami (The River) getting 7.5 percent with the ultra far-right Golden Dawn – all of whose 18 lawmakers have been arrested on charges of running a criminal gang – now fourth with 5.5 percent, tied with the KKE Communists.
Rhetoric sharpened in both the SYRIZA and New Democracy camps as the latest opinion poll, carried out by the University of Macedonia for Skai, showed the leftists widening their lead over ND to 5.5 points, garnering 33.5 percent compared to 27 percent for ND. To Potami ranks third with 7.5 percent followed by Golden Dawn and the Communist Party (KKE) with 5.5 percent each.
That happened against the backdrop of the country’s lenders giving fresh warnings that whoever wins there could be no veering from the course of austerity and finishing reforms although Samaras said he would take an early exit from the Troika in March if he stays in power, after following its orders since winning the June 2012 elections.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has put up much of the loan monies but insisted on austerity, said she hoped Greeks would “vote responsibly” and that the principle of “solidarity in exchange for reforms” would apply.
European Economic and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a seminar at the Bruegel economic think tank that Eurozone integrity is not at threat. “We don’t fear what will happen in the Greek elections on Sunday. We are prepared for all kinds of scenarios in Greece,” he said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also said that any new government in Greece “will have to respect commitments already made and stay the course of reform and fiscal responsibility.”
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, warned of “consequences” if European countries seek to restructure their debts, a shot at SYRIZA as international leaders team up behind their man Samaras, much to the consternation of critics upset at what they see as outside interference in Greek sovereign affairs.
As a principle, collective endeavors are welcome but at the same time a debt is a debt and it is a contract,” Lagarde told The Irish Times in an interview when questioned about SYRIZA’s calls for a European debt conference.
“Defaulting, restructuring, changing the terms has consequences on the signature and the confidence in the signature,” Lagarde said.
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