NEWS

Political shake-up brewing

Speculation about a possible reshuffle of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos?s coalition cabinet resurged on Monday as government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis pointedly avoided ruling out such an option while emphasizing that ministers should channel their energies into implementing crucial reforms.

The government spokesman would not be drawn into a debate about the likelihood of a reshuffle but indicated that a shake-up was ahead, noting that Greeks should expect ?significant developments after the holidays.?

Asked by reporters whether ministers who decide to challenge PASOK leader and former Premier George Papandreou for the Socialist party leadership will be asked to give up their posts, Kapsis said the procedure of the leadership challenge had not yet begun. ?Let?s wait and see,? he said. His elliptical statement fueled rumors that a leadership challenge in PASOK and a reshuffle are inextricably linked.

In such a scenario, challengers to Papandreou — Development Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and possibly Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, as well as Health Minister Andreas Loverdos — would resign from their posts ahead of the contest, leaving key posts in the Cabinet open.

Kapsis suggested that party politics should take a back seat to the serious challenge of reforms and appealed to ministers to be ?wholly committed to their work.?

He also sought to quash speculation about the interim government?s term being extended beyond February. ?The prime minister will not be held hostage to anyone and the government will proceed on the basis of the commitments made by all three parties,? he said.

Kapsis said Papademos was to convene two cabinet meetings, Wednesday and Thursday, to tie up loose ends. The meetings are expected to focus on reforms to labor relations and the judiciary, with the onus to shift to fiscal concerns in January. The government is under pressure to increase revenue without raising taxes.

In a related development, the Finance Ministry has decided that a controversial property tax will be payable in five installments next year, instead of two.

The ministry?s decision also means that any errors made in property tax charges issued this year will be deducted from next year?s charges, which will also be attached to electricity bills.