The first day of a debate in Parliament on Wednesday on a confidence vote in the government was dominated by a fierce and protracted clash between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, setting the scene for a tense countdown to three electoral battles.
Mitsotakis hit out at Tsipras over recent revelations about state shortfalls in responding to the catastrophic fires in eastern Attica last year and over an uproar over Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis, who accused a wheelchair-bound conservative MEP candidate of exploiting affirmative action laws to get a state job.
The “moral advantage” that Tsipras’ SYRIZA claims to hold “sank in the blue-green waters of the Ionian,” Mitsotakis remarked, referring to photographs that showed the premier on a luxury yacht after the fires last summer.
In his speech in Parliament, Tsipras dismissed ND’s censure motion against Polakis as a “character assassination” and played down criticism over his holiday on a businessman’s yacht last summer as “gossip,” seeking to shift the discussion to the pre-election handouts he announced on Tuesday.
The premier claimed that ND had a “hidden agenda” behind its censure motion, accusing the party of having policies aligned with the International Monetary Fund and a “secret plan” to impose those measures on Greece. He also linked Mitsotakis to Manfred Weber, the European Peoples Party’s (EPP) lead candidate for the upcoming European elections, just a few hours after the latter criticized his handout announcements as “irresponsible.”
Mitsotakis, for his part, said that the handouts announced by Tsipras revealed the premier’s “panic.” “You tried to change the agenda. To give very little from everything you took in the past four years. But Greeks who pay your taxes…see your panic. They see your effort to fool them again,” Mitsotakis said.
Relatively little was said about the official topic of the debate, which was peppered with personal jibes and below-the-belt comments. Tsipras called on MPs to support his government in its bid to boost the country’s economic recovery while also defending the handouts. Mitsotakis looked toward a “wide and clear” win in the upcoming European elections, saying it could be “the first step for a bigger political change.”