Souflias stirs up ND

Just after the conservatives’ parliamentary majority voted in the 2005 state budget in the early hours of yesterday by a 165-135 vote margin, ruling New Democracy was humming like a beehive over remarks by a senior minister criticizing the spearheading of the party’s anti-corruption drive. In off-the-cuff comments during a meeting with journalists on Wednesday, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias rubbished aspects of the new draft law intended to block media barons from using leverage to gain access to state procurements. The fight against what honorary ND Chairman and former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis first dubbed «entangled interests» was one of the conservatives’ main electoral banners. Yesterday, ND sources voicing deep irritation with Souflias – who also spoke outside the party line on the fiscal review and the 2005 budget – while at the same time expressing surprise at his stance. But sources close to Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis – who had booted Souflias out of the party seven years ago after the MP opposed party policies on privatization – said the PM still considers the public works minister to be one of his two closest cabinet aides. Meanwhile, opposition leader George Papandreou yesterday accused ND of trying to cover up major problems to avoid the political cost of tackling them.