NEWS

Big pledges, close race

Foreign Minister George Papandreou was at the center of a storm yesterday as conservative and leftist opposition parties laid into him for proposing that young people and businesses not pay the social security contributions for people aged under 30 for the first four years after they join the labor market. New Democracy accused Papandreou of not thinking of the cost to the social security system. Leftist parties accused him of trying to introduce black market practices to serve businesses. PASOK members, though, said Papandreou had shown interest in a part of the population with high unemployment. ND leader Costas Karamanlis, making his offer of the day, said his party would declare families with three children to be «multichild» families, something that could provide them with numerous benefits (including subsidies and tax-free cars) that families with four or more children now enjoy. Karamanlis returned from a two-day visit to Cyprus. A nationwide telephone poll of 1,240 people that is to be broadcast by Athens’s Skai radio today shows that 61 percent of those polled by VPRC believe the result of the March 7 elections is still undecided, while 32 percent believe it has been determined. A full 20 percent said that they changed their minds (one way or another) after Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s decision to step down as PASOK’s leader in favor of Papandreou. Among people who backed PASOK in 2000, 30 percent were affected by Simitis’s initiative, as were 31 percent of those who voted for Synaspismos Left Coalition and 40 percent of those who voted for Democratic Social Movement. The poll (conducted on Jan.19-20) also shows a close race between Papandreou and Karamanlis, with 28 percent having a positive opinion of the former and 20 percent of the latter over the past week. Significantly, 42 percent picked neither. However, 13 percent had a negative view of Papandreou, 11 percent of Karamanlis and 54 percent for neither over the week. In terms of their performance on television, 39 picked Papandreou over 29 percent for Karamanlis, 17 percent for both and 8 percent for neither. The two tied with 34 percent each with regard to their opinions and positions. With regard to who they believe will win the elections, 6 percent picked ND by a wide margin over 4 percent for PASOK, while 34 picked ND by a narrow margin and 29 PASOK by a slim margin.