New Democracy, PASOK row unsettles coalition

The efforts of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos to hold together their unorthodox coalition suffered another setback on Thursday when some members of New Democracy took exception to criticism of former Premier Costas Karamanlis from the PASOK ranks.

Samaras and Venizelos have sought to play down the tension between the two parties, once fierce rivals, knowing that the government’s five-seat parliamentary majority is fragile and that the coalition might not survive an outbreak of infighting.

However, a number of New Democracy officials took exception on Thursday to criticism of Karamanlis’s time in government during speeches given by former PASOK leaders Costas Simitis and George Papandreou, as well as Venizelos, at the Socialist party’s conference on Wednesday.

“How dare they moralize about public life when they destroyed the country?” said former Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, still a close associate of Karamanlis. Other New Democracy figures close to the former prime minister, Evripidis Stylianidis and Evangelos Antonaros, who is now an external adviser to the European Investment Bank, also hit back at PASOK’s criticism. Conservative deputy Andreas Lykourentzos joined the argument.

Sources said that there was pressure on Samaras from some New Democracy members to respond to comments from Simitis, Papandreou and Venizelos. The prime minister decided not to fan the flames and New Democracy’s only official response was through party secretary Andreas Papamimikos. “The last person that has a right to criticize the New Democracy government is Mr Papandreou,” he said.

In the summer, PASOK also reacted to criticism of its prime ministers, particularly the late Andreas Papandreou, at New Democracy’s congress. In the wake of that row, Samaras and Venizelos attempted to ease the friction within the coalition. With the latest flashpoint coming just before Samaras delivers his economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday and with Venizelos hoping to capitalize on the fact that some 44,000 unique visitors watched Wednesday’s speeches at the party conference, it seems certain the two leaders will continue to try to ease tension within the government.

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