NEWS

Karamanlis finally shows hand in reshuffle

Three weeks short of celebrating two years in power, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday conducted his first Cabinet reshuffle, hoping it will breathe new life into his government and carry him to a second term in office. Six new faces have come into the government – five ministers and one deputy minister. Five ministers have been sacked along with five deputy ministers. Three ministers have moved departments. «The aim of the new government is to rebuild the state through the major reforms that have already begun successfully and are forming a new, more modern image of our country,» said government spokesman and Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos, who remained in his post. In a statement, Karamanlis said that the ruling conservatives would push forward with their reforms of the public sector. New Democracy’s lead in the polls has been slowly but steadily eroded over recent months. A poll conducted by VPRC on behalf of Skai Radio last week showed the gap between the two parties to be at 2 percent. In a widely tipped move, Karamanlis decided to bring Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis into the Cabinet as the new foreign minister, dispensing with the services of the experienced Petros Molyviatis. This was perhaps the most eye-catching change, as 51-year-old Bakoyannis is consistently one of the most popular New Democracy figures in opinion polls but is also thought to harbor aspirations of leading the party in the future. «I will do whatever I can to serve the country, the government and the party in a period of major international realignment,» she said. «Greece faces some important challenges which I am sure that it can meet,» added Bakoyannis, who led the City of Athens through the 2004 Olympics and whose four-year term was due to end later this year. Sources said that 77-year-old Molyviatis had been offered the post of defense minister but chose to retire instead. «The time has come, and because of my age, to withdraw from public life,» he said yesterday. Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis, another popular government figure, left the Cabinet and will stand as a New Democracy candidate for mayor of Athens in the October local elections. Kaklamanis is replaced at the Health Ministry by Dimitris Avramopoulos, who had until yesterday been tourism minister. This move was something of a surprise, as Avramopoulos was seen as being perfectly suited for the role of tourism minister, where he spearheaded a successful multimillion-euro international ad campaign to attract tourists to Greece in the wake of the Athens Olympics. Avramopoulos, a former Athens mayor, said he was ready to approach his new post with «new ideas and a heightened sense of responsibility.» Fanni Palli-Petralia, former alternate culture minister, takes over as the new tourism minister. Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis was sacked. In possibly the biggest surprise of the reshuffle, the post of culture minister was instead given to Giorgos Voulgarakis, who had been the public order minister. Voulgarakis’s handling of the recent phone-tapping affair as well as the alleged abduction of Pakistanis in Greece is thought to have been a key factor in him being moved from his post. But sources suggest that Voulgarakis himself had asked to be moved to a different position. The removal of Voulgarakis made way for the return of an experienced ND campaigner, Vyron Polydoras. The 59-year-old was first elected as an MP for the conservative party in 1981. Party Secretary Evangelos Meimarakis also entered the Cabinet after Karamanlis made him defense minister in place of Spilios Spiliotopoulos, who was, to some surprise, left out of the new Cabinet. Panos Panayiotopoulos was also removed from his position as labor minister after a series of arguments with other top ministers. He has been replaced by Savvas Tsitouridis, who resigned as agriculture minister in 2004. Macedonia-Thrace Minister Nikos Tsiartsionis was another outgoing member of the Cabinet and has been replaced by Giorgos Kalatzis, an MP for Kavala in northern Greece. «The countdown for the New Democracy government has begun with this reshuffle,» said PASOK leader George Papandreou of the changes by the prime minister. He referred to the new Cabinet as being «recycled» and «not giving new hope.» «A reshuffle would make sense if the government changed its positions, if it confronted the big problems of unemployment, the high cost of living and democratic freedoms,» said Synaspismos Left Coalition leader Alekos Alavanos.