PM throws down the gauntlet

In a rare display of parliamentary machination, the prime minister yesterday turned the tables on his opponents – after calls by PASOK for a censure vote against his finance minister – by challenging Parliament to hold a confidence vote in his government on Sunday. What originally began as a parliamentary debate on economic and labor reforms yesterday quickly turned into a game of political chess. This means that MPs in the 300-seat house, where the ruling conservatives have a clear majority, will have to engage in more debate from tomorrow. Premier Costas Karamanlis opened proceedings by underlining his government’s intention to push forward with structural reforms. «We will not hesitate to clash with interests that are sustained by the state and privileged clubs,» he said. The two parties had already clashed on Tuesday after the European Commission asked Greece to return 518 million euros in EU funds due to irregularities in the way the money was used to pay for public works between 2000 and 2003 – when PASOK was in power. «This shows the irresponsibility of the previous government and the difficult road we must take to correct its mistakes,» said Karamanlis. The ball was set rolling when Socialist leader George Papandreou launched a scathing attack on the government’s reforms and economic record. He accused the government of siding with big business and cited a deal reached two weeks ago – to offer thousands of OTE telecom employees early retirement deals in return for putting an end to jobs for life – as serving the interests of shareholders. He said «You are persisting with a catastrophic policy for the country, for its people and its interests.» He proposed a vote of no confidence in Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis, to which the prime minister immediately responded with a proposal to hold a vote of confidence in his government. These types of votes are relatively rare in the Greek Parliament and initial indications were that Papandreou may have scored a political own-goal by giving Karamanlis an opportunity to rally his deputies at a time when a censure vote against the government had no chance of succeeding. Some PASOK MPs distanced themselves from Papandreou’s decision after the debate, parliamentary sources said.

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