PASOK tries to win round skeptics

Prime Minister George Papandreou and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Monday sought to win around skeptical Socialist MPs to back a crucial vote on the government?s new package of austerity measures – dubbed as the midterm fiscal program – that foreign creditors have said is a prerequisite for the release of the next tranche of rescue funding.

In a speech before Parliament – launching a debate on the measures that is to culminate with votes tomorrow on the midterm program and Thursday on a bill outlining the program?s implementation – Papandreou called on ruling party MPs to ?do their duty? and pass the measures.

Pushing the bills through Parliament is the only way to save the country from bankruptcy and set it on the path to economic recovery, he said.

Approving the program ?will bring to an end a chapter of uncertainty and open the door to a new, hopeful beginning.? It would ?guarantee the stability of our country in the medium term so that we can pay salaries and pensions,? he added.

But the prerequisite is that MPs do their duty, he concluded. ?It?s a tough duty but a necessary one, putting the good of the nation above narrow party political interests.?

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos also did his best to impress upon MPs of all political affiliations that the austerity program was the better of two evils for Greece. The minister met with PASOK deputy for Kozani, Alexandros Athanassiadis, the only Socialist to have stated categorically that he will vote against the program. Venizelos also spoke by telephone with Thomas Robopoulos, who is also wavering ahead of the vote.

Panayiotis Kouroublis and Chryssa Arapoglou have indicated that they too have serious doubts about the program.

Meanwhile, rifts have also appeared in the ranks of conservative New Democracy ahead of the vote.

On Monday, ND deputy Elsa Papadimitriou indicated that she might go against the party line and vote for the measures, noting that now was a time ?to put the good of the nation above party interests.?

Later in the day Venizelos rebuffed furious criticism of the midterm program by opposition MPs in Parliament, emphasizing that the measures might be ?tough and even unfair? but that they were unavoidable. ?We have to finally come to our senses and get serious,? he said.

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