PM expects coalition to be tested in coming months

The coalition government faces several crucial months ahead but will be “taking off” in September, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is said to have told New Democracy MPs on Thursday as more signs of tension in his tripartite administration emerged.

During lunch with several MPs, ministers and Parliament Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis, Samaras expressed concern that the cohesion of his government and society would be tested over the next few months. He is concerned that the deepening recession will put more pressure on households but hopes that the situation will begin to improve from the summer onward with the help of a good tourism season, new investments and the conclusion of the German elections, sources said.

Finance Ministry figures showed Greece was ahead of its deficit targets in January, producing a primary surplus of 415 million euros, but also confirmed a fall in revenues, which were 239 million euros short of the target.

The surplus came about thanks to a larger-than-expected reduction in spending, including on medicines. Health Minister Andreas Lykourentzos said that Greece’s drugs bill in January was almost 18 percent lower than in October. However, Lykourentzos added that he had been given the green light following a separate meeting with Samaras on Thursday to find the staff to reopen 137 out of a total of 655 intensive-care units that have closed down – an indication of the government’s concern about the state of healthcare and how this might impact its fortunes. Lykourentzos said this would require 108 doctors and 330 nurses to be hired.

The tension within the government was visible on Thursday when MPs from the tripartite coalition criticized Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras for not appearing in Parliament to answer their questions and allowing his deputy, Giorgos Mavragannis, to take his place. Samaras has also been slammed for not attending prime minister’s question time on Fridays.

PASOK MP Apostolos Kaklamanis went as far as to suggest that lawmakers vote on a motion to censure Stournaras, a move that could lead to him losing his position.

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