Party chiefs in tonight’s TV debate

The five leaders of political parties represented in Parliament and the European Parliament will hold a nationally televised debate at 9 p.m. tonight, after PASOK leader George Papandreou decided late on Tuesday to reverse his party’s decision for a debate only between the March 7 election’s main protagonists – himself and New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis. Papandreou’s decision was a surprise because up to that point PASOK had wanted a debate only between the main party leaders, raising protests from smaller parties, and PASOK and ND officials were ironing out the final details. PASOK spokesperson Anna Diamantopoulou blamed the change on a concerted attack on the ruling party. «In the last few days, we have been witness to a crescendo that touched on hysteria. New Democracy was talking with PASOK on the organization of the debate, while at the same time criticizing PASOK for undemocratic behavior toward other parties. All the other parties attacked PASOK and its decision to organize a democratic dialogue,» she said. «We will not accept any doubts of our democratic thinking nor our desire for dialogue.» New Democracy and the other opposition parties all claimed credit for Papandreou’s change of heart. «Today, 43 days after Costas Karamanlis’s letter and 11 days before the elections, Mr Papandreou accepted the obvious,» ND spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos said. He said that PASOK’s leader had responded to «the vocal objections of common opinion and the reactions of the whole political world.» Roussopoulos noted that Karamanlis’s proposal for a one-on-one debate still stood and could be held right up to next Friday, two days before the elections. In tonight’s debate, a journalist will coordinate five other journalists who will ask questions of Papandreou, Karamanlis, Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga, Synaspismos leader Nikos Constantopoulos and Democratic Social Movement (DIKKI) leader Dimitris Tsovolas. The discussion will be split into five themes (social policy, foreign policy, the economy, public administration and education). It is expected to last more than two hours.