Reshuffle on the cards after Democratic Left quits government

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was said to be planning a sweeping cabinet reshuffle in the coming days following the withdrawal from the coalition on Friday of junior partner Democratic Left (DIMAR) which vehemently opposed Samaras’s decision to shut down state broadcaster ERT last week.

DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis withdrew his two ministers – Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis and Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis – from the government following the breakdown of a third round of coalition talks aimed at mending the impasse over ERT. After a stormy session of his parliamentary group, Kouvelis indicated that his party would not oppose the government’s reform drive and would support legislation deemed to be in line with it. “DIMAR will be active, but it will also oppose arbitrary acts, despotism and policies that promote party choices and do not contribute toward the recovery of the country, society and democratic institutions,” he said.

Smarting from Kouvelis’s departure, the government nevertheless dodged the potentially destabilizing threat of early elections. According to sources, Samaras was “surprised and disappointed” by Kouvelis’s decision to pull out, which came just a day after the three party leaders reportedly reached a basic agreement on how to solve the ERT dispute.

Samaras was reportedly in contact with PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Friday to discuss the next steps of the new two-party administration, whose majority has dwindled to 153 in the 300-seat Parliament.

Venizelos reportedly wants a review of the coalition’s policy priorities before a reshuffle and was expected to discuss the issue with Samaras over the weekend, as well as possible candidates for a reshuffle which could happen as early as Monday.

According to sources, the ratio of New Democracy to PASOK ministers in the new cabinet will be 2:1.

There were rumors that Venizelos would assume the post of foreign minister, currently held by Dimitris Avramopoulos, as well as the position of deputy prime minister. Among those expected to keep their posts are Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni and Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos. ND deputies Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Makis Voridis are also rumored to be candidates for posts.

Sources close to Samaras expressed optimism that a reshuffle could be a chance to increase the government’s efficiency. Troika envoys have indicated that government officials have only enforced half of some 300 measures that are supposed to be implemented by the end of June.

In ERT’s old headquarters, north of Athens, dismissed employees continued with their pirate broadcast on Friday despite a statement issued by the Finance Ministry calling on them to “evacuate the premises… to allow for the unhindered and immediate implementation of the Council of State’s decision,” a reference to a ruling by the court that approved ERT’s closure but called for its signal to be restored. The statement said authorities were drafting plans for the recruitment of 2,000 people to run a transitional broadcast service but did not specify the length of the contracts.

The union representing sacked workers responded defiantly to the ministry’s order, saying staff would stay put.