ATHENS – With polls showing he’s likely heading for a narrow loss in the Jan. 25 elections, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and New Democracy Conservative leader has told weary Greeks he will stop hitting them with austerity measures and instead will now cut taxes and raise salaries.
Samaras has been imposing big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings since being elected in June of 2012, reversing his previous stance against harsh conditions a previous PASOK Socialist Administration had begun on orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which put up 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts.
Unable to get Parliament to back his choice for a symbolic Greek President, New Democracy Vice-President Stavros Dimas, Samaras was forced to call snap elections with surveys showing the anti-austerity major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) holding a lead of about 3 percent so far.
Samaras had warned that a SYRIZA administration would undo a coming recovery and drive Greece out of the Eurozone but the threats have failed to register with voters so he has changed strategy to focus on what he said would be the benefits of letting him right the country’s public finances.
“It is exactly because of the fact that we have put an end to deficits and tidied up the public sector that we can give rises and reduce taxes, lightening people’s load,” he said, promising to reduce the unified property tax this year.
“We will give more,” added the prime minister without mentioning he had said it last year but failed to deliver on promised tax cuts for fuel and other reforms meant to help workers, pensioners and the poor, who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis while the government has let politicians, the rich, and tax cheats skate.
He again went after SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ plan to try to renegotiate the terms of the bailouts with the Troika or to walk away from the debt, which Samaras said would be a catastrophe for the country.
“If Greece clashes with its lenders, we will be in danger of losing 35 billion euros [in loans and funding],” he said. “[SYRIZA] have told lies to everyone. That is why our truth and responsibility scares them.”
New Democracy is set to announce 215 newcomers among the 410 parliamentary candidates that will represent the conservatives around the country. Greek voters can’t pick who they want to be in Parliament, only their choice of a Premier, who then decides from the results who becomes a lawmaker for him.
With SYRIZA seemed poised to win, Samaras’ already-shaky coalition has cracked, with his partner the PASOK Socialists attacking him now for recruiting Deputy Culture Minister Angela Gerekou to bolt the party in favor of New Democracy.
In an open letter to Samaras, Venizelos described the transfer, which was sought by the premier, as “an immoral and crude political initiative” and “a shame.” The former actress has represented PASOK on the Ionian island of Corfu since 2004.
In comments to Star Channel, Venizelos – who was made Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister by Samaras after backing austerity – accused Gerekou of “political opportunism.”
He added that there was a “large group of homeless, opportunistic political cadres who have no problem switching camp.”
He also warned that a second round of general elections, which will take place if parties are unable to form a government, would create a fiscal gap of 15-20 billion euros and said that PASOK, running at about 3.5 percent in surveys after winning the 2009 elections with 44 percent, is the guarantor and savior of Greece although voters have abandoned the party in droves.
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