Greek PM downplays minister’s gaffe

Greek PM downplays minister’s gaffe

With just a month remaining before the European and local elections, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ perceived backing of Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis after his controversial remarks about a conservative MEP candidate who uses a wheelchair has laid the groundwork for a fierce head-on collision between ruling SYRIZA and opposition New Democracy after the Easter holidays.

Responding to ND’s announcement that it will file a censure motion against Polakis over the issue, Tsipras said he would turn it into a vote of confidence in his government. Tsipras described Polakis as an “abrupt” Cretan in what was seen as an attempt to downplay the issue.

Polakis had claimed in a social media post that MEP candidate Stelios Kymbouropoulos used his disability to get a job in the Greek National Health Service (ESY).

His remark triggered a storm of indignation across the political spectrum, including from within SYRIZA and the National Confederation of Persons with Disabilities (ESAA), which said it will take legal action against Polakis over his discriminatory comment.

“The indescribable alternate minister of your government, Mr Polakis, attacked New Democracy’s MEP candidate Stelios Kymbouropoulos in a vile way,” New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a Parliament session, adding that the MEP was being attacked because he, essentially, made use of the law for people with disabilities.

“Shame on you… we will no longer tolerate the behavior of Polakis and immediately after the Easter we will submit a censure motion against the alternate health minister and you can all come here to defend him,” Mitsotakis said, addressing SYRIZA lawmakers.

For his part, Tsipras struck a defiant tone, accusing Mitsotakis of being in a “panic” and of trying to create a diversion in the public debate.

“I will turn the discussion into a vote of confidence for the government and we will discuss the big and crucial issues, not the ones you want,” Tsipras said.

Asked by journalists if Tsipras’ move would rally SYRIZA’s base, Mitsotakis said he cannot “imagine any thinking person rallying around Polakis.”

In a Facebook post, Kymbouropoulos said he was “upset by Polakis’ attack and more so by the cover he was given by the prime minister.”

As for his appointment at ESY, he said that he had followed all the required legal procedures.

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