Early elections are back on PM’s political agenda

There is a growing possibility that general elections will be called in September because the government fears that the United Nations may end the mediation process between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), sources told Sunday’s Kathimerini. It is thought that the UN’s special negotiator, Matthew Nimetz, may bring an end to the mediation process in September as he has made little progress in efforts to bring Athens and Skopje closer together over the last two years. Greece fears that if Nimetz does surrender his mandate, FYROM will make a direct appeal to the Security Council to be recognized internationally as the «Republic of Macedonia.» Athens believes the USA will support Skopje in its bid as Washington wants the name issue out of the way so FYROM can join NATO. If the move is successful it is likely to damage the Greek government’s popularity and hamper its chances of being re-elected. As a result of this potential development, according to sources, the ruling conservatives are seriously considering calling elections before there are any changes in the FYROM name issue. The strongest indication that this may be the case came from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who told journalists accompanying him on a flight to Singapore that «we still have time» until the country goes to the polls. Until now, Karamanlis has been adamant that he will see out a full four-year term, which runs out in March. His decision not to stick to this line as he headed out on a nine-day trip, during which he will visit New Zealand and Australia, suggests that he is keeping his election options open. However, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who is accompanying the premier on his trip, denied yesterday that Karamanlis was thinking along these lines. «The prime minister is not seeking to use a national issue as a reason to call elections,» she told reporters in New Zealand. Bakoyannis said that she did not have any information suggesting that Nimetz had given up efforts to find a solution to Greece’s dispute with FYROM. Responding to the developments, PASOK leader George Papandreou warned Karamanlis yesterday not to «dare» to use a matter of national importance as an «excuse» to call elections. Papandreou was speaking at the end of his party’s conference in Athens and also called on Karamanlis not to go to the polls before the scandals with which the government has been linked – including the purchase of structured bonds by pension funds – have been cleared up. The possibility of the government being further implicated in this, or other scandals, is another reason that may lead Karamanlis to opt for early elections. Some of his ministers fear New Democracy may be tarnished if there is a prolonged pre-election period.