Still smarting after a row over derogatory comments made by one of his ministers about a disabled political rival, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is keen to change the political narrative with a visit to China this weekend and the anticipated announcement of handouts after Orthodox Easter.
The crisis prompted by the comments of Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis about wheelchair-bound Stelios Kymbouropoulos, a candidate for conservative New Democracy in next month’s European Parliament elections, was particularly harmful for Tsipras as it was not only fueled by ND but also by many within leftist SYRIZA.
Polakis basically accused Kymbouropoulos of using affirmative action laws to secure his appointment as a physician with the National Health System while questioning such laws.
The tacit support offered by Tsipras and State Minister for Digital Policy Nikos Pappas displeased many in the ranks of SYRIZA who believed the premier should have pulled up the outspoken minister for going too far.
According to sources, the prime minister telephoned Polakis to reprimand him after he made his comments. But Tsipras’ public statement essentially played down his minister’s comments.
SYRIZA MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis struck a similar note Thursday, declaring that “in essence, his statement is right” but “his style undermines this.”
Kymbouropoulos said Thursday that he would welcome a conversation with Polakis to clarify the substance of his stance on the issue.
ND meanwhile hit out at the government for failing to apologize for Polakis’ behavior.
Tsipras’ meeting with Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos on Wednesday, amid reports that a new package of handouts is being finalized, was seen as part of an attempt to shift the narrative away from the Polakis affair.
The Greek premier is also keen to wrest maximum benefit from this weekend’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. During the visit, which comes amid increasingly close Greek-Chinese ties, Tsipras and Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos are expected to meet with top officials and sign a three-year memorandum for bilateral cooperation in key sectors including energy, transport and finance.