NEWS

PASOK’s biggest promise

PASOK leader George Papandreou yesterday shook up the election campaign by suddenly announcing a series of handouts to low-income earners and the unemployed. The opposition New Democracy party, which was leading in opinion polls last month, accused Papandreou of populism, saying he was making a desperate effort to stave off defeat in Sunday’s elections. Speaking on Alpha channel’s morning show, under prodding by host Giorgos Aftias, Papandreou assured that if PASOK is re-elected it will raise the income of retired farmer couples to 800 euros per month, scrap a 5 percent social security contribution by pensioners, eliminate payment for medicines by people who have taken early retirement after 3,500 days of work, and allow the registered unemployed to use public transport for free. Furthermore, families with four or more children will be able to have one of the children hired more easily by the state sector while people with chronic ailments will not have to undergo repeated evaluations to see if they remain handicapped. Papandreou’s announcement was seen as a way to gain points with farmers and pensioners. Minimum pensions for farmers are about 200 euros. As some 460,000 people are said to be affected, it will be a major undertaking to ensure that each married couple of pensioners gets a minimum of 800 euros per month. PASOK spokeswoman Anna Diamantopoulou spoke of changes that will come over the next eight years. «These eight years will be dedicated to citizens and our policies will be readjusted on the basis of this choice,» she said. Later, speaking in the central city of Larissa, in Greece’s farming heartland, Papandreou repeated his promise for farmers’ pensions and sought to revive his party’s formerly strong bonds with farmers. «We have waged battles together with farmers. And if we have made mistakes, I promise you personally, I give you my word of honor, that I personally will fix things,» Papandreou said. New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis, at a mass rally in Agrinion in western Greece and another agricultural center, accused Papandreou of unprecedented lack of credibility. He also claimed PASOK’s leader was the sole culprit for «the effort to cultivate polarization, fanaticism and division.» Karamanlis also repeated his accusations of corruption. «Why do all public works cost two and three times more than they are budgeted for?» he demanded. «Why are the defense procurement contracts that they sign much higher than those signed by other countries?» New Democracy spokesman Theodoris Roussopoulos said that PASOK had turned down an ND proposal to scrap the 5 percent contributions that pensioners pay, extending the measure to 2008. The payment was introduced by New Democracy the last time it was in government in 1990-93. The Communist Party also attacked Papandreou for his promises yesterday, accusing him of hypocrisy. «Now he remembers that this is a rich country and he goes about making promises, after accusing the Communist Party of making meaningless demands,» the party said in a statement.