SYRIZA’s declaration that it will attempt to force national elections in February over the successor to President Karolos Papoulias has forced Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his aides to begin discussing when to carry out a cabinet reshuffle and whether the government should pre-empt the opposition’s move by calling snap elections itself later this year.
Sources have told Kathimerini that Samaras is receiving two different sets of advice regarding the reshuffle. One school of thought is that the changes to his cabinet should happen around April, before the European Parliament and local elections in May. By that point, Greece would have got through the most challenging part of its EU presidency and the prime minister could send a signal of commitment to reforms by replacing ministers who are underperforming.
However, the competing view is that a reshuffle before the elections would weaken the government’s hand as Samaras would be forced to explain why he was changing his ministers for the second time in less than a year. Also, some of Samaras’s advisers believe that the reshuffle would be useful to leave until after the May elections in case the government achieves a disappointing result.
On Saturday, SYRIZA issued a statement in which it said that Samaras would not avoid a “crushing defeat” at the ballot box in May. The leftists also accused New Democracy of toying with the idea of bringing Papoulias’s second term, which is due to end in February, to an end prematurely so general elections could be called before then.
On Friday night, after SYRIZA indicated it would attempt to trigger a national vote in February, Samaras said he did not want elections before 2016, when the government’s four-year term will expire.
“We do not have a problem with elections happening in 2015 but Greece needs them to take place in 2016,” he said. “That is when the Greek people want them.”
However, Kathimerini understands that Samaras is discussing with his advisers the possibility of calling snap polls in October. By then, any negotiations regarding debt relief for Greece and the future of its program would have been concluded. It would also be after what is expected to be another busy summer season for the Greek tourism sector. By that point, the primary surplus is also expected to have grown and the first signs of growth to have emerged.
In such an event, Samaras could ask Papoulias to step down early and make the presidential succession part of the election campaign, thereby avoiding the issue from re-emerging a few months later.