Gloves off in snow

The campaign for the March 7 national elections, although not officially begun, was in full swing yesterday, with both main rivals trading barbs in snowbound western Macedonia. Foreign Minister George Papandreou, the soft-spoken leader-in-waiting of the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), speaking in the town of Kozani, for the first time extensively attacked opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis as someone bereft of ideas who, at best, is copying him and, at worst, hides behind a rhetoric of «refounding the State.» Papandreou charged that this boils down to no more than a desire to help his supporters grab all the key posts in the state administration. «This (state administration reform promised by Karamanlis) is not governing, this is a call to dissolve everything; it is not progress, it is regression,» Papandreou told a large crowd in a snowstorm. Karamanlis, speaking in the nearby town of Ptolemaida, said he was «surprised» by Papandreou’s charge that he was copying his rival. «Is it possible to copy from a blank sheet?… Copy what? Half-baked ideas thrown about in the morning and hastily modified in the evening? Or the government’s arrogance and corruption?» he added. On Wednesday, Karamanlis had criticized Papandreou’s absence from a parliamentary debate, saying that the essential political debate was done there and not in roadshows staged for the media. Papandreou responded yesterday by saying, «They (New Democracy) actually fear my presence.» Seeking to regain early momentum that cut ND’s lead in opinion polls but which now appears to have stalled, Papandreou tried to portray himself as the real agent of change, promising to review most of the government’s major policies and to insist on «ethical governance.» Meanwhile, Karamanlis announced yesterday that veteran MP Yiannis Varvitsiotis would not stand in the national elections but would the ND ticket in elections for the European Parliament on June 13. Removing Varvitsiotis, 71, from Parliament, where he has sat since 1961, was seen as helping Karamanlis in his effort to retire the so-called party «barons,» veteran MPs whose continuing influence is resented by younger ND MPs. Former party leader Constantine Mitsotakis, 85, has already announced his retirement but others, including Karamanlis’s uncle Achilleas, resist the idea. On Thursday, Yiannis Kefaloyiannis, 72, angered Karamanlis by announcing not only his candidacy, but the entire list of ND candidates in his Rethymnon, Crete, prefecture. Later, Kefaloyiannis was forced to retract his statement.

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