Parties jostle for airtime

Change to rules guarantees coverage for smaller parties, including Chrysi Avgi

With less than two weeks to go until the May 6 elections, Greece?s political parties focused their attention on television airtime, which could prove a crucial battleground in what is expected to be an unpredictable and close-run contest.

The Council of State on Monday accepted an appeal by the small liberal Drasi party led by Stefanos Manos, which objected to a cross-party committee decision to award airtime just to the five parties who won seats at the 2009 elections and the Ecologist Greens, who won a seat in the European Parliament in the same year. The same privilege was also given to the four parties represented in Parliament but which did not take part in the 2009 elections - Independent Greeks, Democratic Alliance, Democratic Left and Social Pact.

This led to the Minister of State Pantelis Kapsis and Interior Minister Tassos Giannitsis changing the rules governing the allocation of airtime on private and public TV. Now, any party that got more than 0.25 percent at the last general elections or 0.50 at the Euroelections is guaranteed some exposure. State broadcaster ERT is obliged to carry a 45-minute interview with the leader of each party and will have to cover live one of the group?s public rallies. ERT and private channels will have to give each party two five-minute spots during their evening broadcasts and a total of 25 minutes for campaign ads.

This means another six parties apart from PASOK, New Democracy, the Communist Party (KKE), Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and Ecologist Greens will appear on television over the next few days. Among them will be the neofascist Chrysi Avgi, which got just 0.29 percent of the vote in the 2009 elections but is polling at about 5 percent now, Manos?s Drasi and the extreme left Antarsya.

However, the issue of a televised debate between party leaders remains undecided. PASOK has challenged ND leader Antonis Samaras to a two-way debate with Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos. The conservatives rejected this idea on Monday, arguing it would simply lead to ?monologues? by the two politicians. ND called for a cross-party committee to agree on a format involving more leaders. ?They are rejecting dialogue because they are afraid,? said PASOK spokeswoman Fofi Gennimata.

Presenting his party?s manifesto, LAOS leader Giorgos Karatzaferis called for Greece to form an ?alliance of the South? with France, Spain, Italy and Portugal in order to pressure Germany and other core European countries. The nationalist leader suggested this would be a precondition for him entering any new coalition. ?This is the only realistic proposal I can discuss with anyone on election night,? he said.