NEWS

Simitis on offensive for elections

Prime Minister Costas Simitis kept up his pressure on the opposition New Democracy yesterday, with his first newspaper interview since his shake-up of the ruling PASOK party and a Cabinet reshuffle. Simitis presented the basics of the policy PASOK will follow if it wins another four-year term (elections must be held by next spring) and accused the conservatives of simply trying to create an impression by calling for early elections. The interview confirmed the impression that Simitis will try to again attract lower-income groups to PASOK. This will be done by offering benefits and assistance for incomes, affecting about 1 million families of mainly pensioners, the unemployed, the disabled and families with many children. ND leader Costas Karamanlis, on the other hand, will keep pointing to the deficits in PASOK’s long years of government, and the resulting fatigue. In an interview with the daily Ethnos, Simitis discussed the issue that has caused great tension between the government and the conservatives – his decision to change the electoral law and to invite the opposition parties to join a dialogue on this, which they have refused. «I am truly puzzled by ND’s negative position,» Simitis said. «I also wonder at its efforts to change things, as when, for example, it ties the discussion over the electoral law to the coming elections. You know that we are talking about an electoral law for 2008. I am waiting for more mature and more responsible positions to be expressed. Nevertheless, the government is moving ahead, ignoring petty political games and expediences,» he said. Regarding ND’s calls for early elections, Simitis said: «ND calls for early elections to make petty political impressions, because it cannot speak about the essence of politics, about programs and potential.» Simitis spoke about the need for «real convergence» with the rest of the European Union, something that has become synonymous with helping lower-income groups. In early September he plans to present his government’s «Charter for Real Convergence,» a timetable of commitments. «With the Charter we will commit ourselves to specific proposals, so that we will reduce inequality and the phenomenon of poverty and social exclusion,» Simitis said. «There can be no redistribution without development, that is why our primary aim is for the Greek economy to continue to develop at today’s high rate, so that it will be possible to redistribute income to the benefit of the weaker social groups,» he said. Simitis said that the challenge of the next four years will be: «Who can best make real convergence come about?… Who can care about social justice?» He added, «In the next four years the course and potential of Greek society will be determined.» ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos responded, «If the newspaper did not have today’s date, one would think one was reading an interview with Mr Simitis from 1996,» the year Simitis became prime minister. «The prime minister, it is true, does not forget what he promises. He just never carries it out.»