MPs to vote on early polls after heated debate

Members of Parliament were to vote at midnight yesterday on whether to hold early elections following a vote of no confidence issued against the government by the main opposition PASOK party on Friday. The censure motion, submitted by PASOK leader George Papandreou, triggered three days of debate among MPs but was not expected to shake the government, which enjoys a comfortable majority in Parliament. During a weekend of intense political exchanges, senior government officials accused PASOK of hampering plans to revise the Constitution and reform the education sector with the sole aim of overcoming divisions within its own party. Meanwhile, PASOK deputies accused the government of failing to fulfill pre-election promises, damaging the national economy and fueling corruption. Papandreou and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis were due to set out their final positions late last night. In a critical speech targeted at the PASOK chief, government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos yesterday spoke of «gratuitous theatrics and an absence of political substance.» «Papandreou has shown that the only thing he knows how to do is shirk responsibility,» he said. Roussopoulos also condemned PASOK for «being absent, once again, from critical choices for the future,» referring to the opposition party’s decision last week to pull out of a debate on constitutional revision. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was equally critical in her speech on Saturday. «PASOK is the only party which has sought elections to solve not the problems of the people but its own internal deadlocks and the public is fully aware of this,» she said. She described the censure motion as «a large step backward.» Perhaps the most scathing commentary of all, however, came from Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, who said Papandreou’s challenge was «not so much throwing down the gauntlet before a duel but throwing in the towel when a fight is lost.» PASOK deputies fielded the sharp criticism from New Democracy MPs with their own critique of the government’s alleged failures. PASOK Deputy and former minister public works minister Vasso Papandreou accused the government of allowing foreign firms to gain too great a foothold in the economy and of «leading the social security system toward bankruptcy.» «A major and grave reason for our demanding elections is that the prime minister has thrown his pre-election pledges in the garbage,» PASOK spokesman Haris Kastanidis said. «There is nothing more dishonorable than a politician raising the public’s hopes and then swindling them,» he added. The results of a opinion poll published in yesterday’s Eleftherotypia newspaper showed that 49 percent of Greeks do not want early elections.