NEWS

Sparks fly in debate

The curtain came down on an intense three days of debate in Parliament last night with the prime minister rejecting suggestions of calling early elections as MPs prepared to hold a midnight vote of confidence in the government, following a fierce battle over the economy, structural reforms and the ruling conservatives’ record in power. «It is your obligation to call elections if you admit that you have made a mess of things,» said PASOK leader George Papandreou. «We will not follow your lead. You may be in a hurry to lose the election, we are not in a hurry to win it. We have work to do and reforms to complete,» said Premier Costas Karamanlis. Despite holding a comfortable majority, with 165 of the 300 seats in Parliament, and not being in any clear danger of losing the vote, the government used the debate to launch stinging attacks on the performance of the previous Socialist government. «In 15 months, we managed to do more in the field of public works than has been done in decades,» said Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, one of the last MPs to address the house. Equally, PASOK, with no obvious hope of winning the vote, sought to grab every opportunity to hack away at the government’s record, particularly on the controversial issue of labor and social security reforms. «Behind your reforms, there lies a desire to reduce the rights of workers, to abolish collective contracts and to destroy the social state and social unity,» said one of PASOK’s big-hitters and a former development minister, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, yesterday. Wild accusations also flew between the two main parties during the debate. PASOK’s former defense minister Yiannos Papantoniou accused the government of being «forgers» for claiming that the Socialists had left the economy in bad shape. Labor Minister Panos Panayiotopoulos said that PASOK’s name had become synonymous with «murkiness.» The party leaders began proceedings on Friday and rounded off the debate last night. The Communist Party (KKE) decided to abstain from the debate and the vote after leader Aleka Papariga accused PASOK and New Democracy of engaging in «political theatrics.»