Simitis to lay out new policy

Prime Minister Costas Simitis will chair a meeting of his new Cabinet at noon today, immediately after its members are sworn in at a ceremony before President Costis Stephanopoulos at 11 a.m. At the meeting, Simitis will set out the initiatives that his party and government will take in order to win over the electorate in the 10 months remaining before elections must be held. Simitis is expected to announce a political directorate that will coordinate the work of the government and his PASOK party. Its members are widely expected to include Foreign Minister George Papandreou, National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Labor Minister Dimitris Reppas and, to stress the involvement of the party, PASOK’s general secretary, Michalis Chrysochoidis. As this body is staffed entirely by aides close to Simitis, it is expected to make a concerted effort to carry out reforms and improve the daily lives of citizens as quickly as possible. The latter is the key problem the government faces, with complaints of rising costs, greater unemployment and a problematic public administration. Simitis is expected to announce priorities for each ministry and may even produce a timetable for things to be done. In announcing changes to PASOK’s Executive Bureau last week, which included the radical step of removing the party’s general secretary, Costas Laliotis, he said that in early September the government would present a «Charter of Social Convergence.» This is intended to change the political current, which gives the opposition New Democracy party a lead of about 8 percent in recent opinion polls, in time for the spring elections. In removing Laliotis, the leading member of PASOK’s old guard (but who had backed his election as party leader) and stacking the Executive Bureau and Cabinet with people close to him, Simitis has shown that he is gambling on reform to save PASOK from electoral defeat. As the Cabinet reshuffle announced on Friday appeared far more timid than the removal of Laliotis, with only four ministers and five deputy ministers being changed (and some of them just being shifted from one post to the other), the change is expected to come not from personalities but from policies and the speed of their implementation. The «directorate» is expected to meet every day, to this end. Tomorrow, either the Cabinet or Inner Cabinet will meet to discuss issues related to modernizing the political system and making public life more transparent, the semi-official Athens News Agency reported yesterday. According to the agency, this could include a new and stricter law regarding politicians’ mandatory declaration of the sources of their assets, which could foresee penalties including the confiscation of property of politicians involved in offshore companies. Also, issues related to political money and the restructuring of the country’s administration are expected to be on the agenda. A major issue that Simitis is expected to tackle soon could involve changes to the electoral law, which might make it more representative but still allow the formation of single-party governments. A new electoral law would involve the breaking up of large constituencies, such as those of Athens A and Athens B, the «Rest of Attica» constituency and Thessaloniki A. Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis has been working on this issue. New Democracy has said it would vote against any change to the electoral law.

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