Budget for elections

The budget debate is to end tonight with a roll call vote that will begin shortly after midnight. But the drama of what is always a vote of confidence is greater than usual this year. The ruling PASOK party has 156 seats in the 300-member Parliament and is expected to approve the budget easily. But next spring elections will be held, making this debate part of the pre-election campaign, and rumors have been rife that Prime Minister Costas Simitis might leave PASOK’s leadership before the elections. Simitis is to speak tonight and has been under pressure to make clear where he stands on the rumors, especially after Foreign Minister George Papandreou last weekend threw his hat into the ring of succession, saying that he would not shirk his responsibility when the time came. But he stressed that he supported Simitis. Yesterday, Sunday’s Kathimerini quoted PASOK cadre Costas Laliotis, whom Simitis recently replaced as party general secretary, calling on the prime minister to clarify his position. «Mr Simitis has the initiative and responsibility for action, but he does not have the luxury of time. He must make clear now,» where he stands, Laliotis said, according to Kathimerini. «Going to elections demands a personal commitment,» he added. Simitis had made clear through the government spokesman last week that he did not intend to step aside. And he also stressed that he would not respond personally to any rumors. His aides were yesterday spreading the message that during tonight’s debate he would have a «surprise» for New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis. In his speech, he is expected to focus on his government’s achievements. This implies that he will talk of Greece’s entry into the eurozone, its successful presidency of the European Union earlier this year, Cyprus’s EU accession and progress toward solving the Cyprus issue, improved relations with Turkey and the possibility of the continental shelf between Greece and Turkey being delineated, large and small public works, economic growth and the commitments his government has made toward bringing Greek incomes and living standards closer to those of the EU average.