Election cards shuffled

The government is getting ready to call national elections for next month, with September 23 being the most likely date, as the ruling conservatives move ahead with their pre-election preparations. According to senior government sources, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is likely to announce the date in the second half of August and will decide between a September 23 or 30 election date, with the former most likely. Talk of when the government will call the nation to the polls has been lingering for months; however, it appears that Karamanlis has decided the timing is right for elections. Despite the traditionally quiet August period having started, different ministries submitted to Parliament this week five draft bills in a sign that it wants to rush through the proposed laws. Sources said those in charge of political planning at New Democracy have put into effect pre-election tactics and have started working with communications companies on promoting the government’s work of the last four years. The conservatives, who were elected in March 2004, will be eager to put forth their achievements in the economy as a means of overshadowing news that harmed their popularity, such as a bond scandal involving state pension funds and the recent handling of the thousands of forest fires across the country this summer. Under New Democracy, economic growth has remained strong despite widespread expectations of a sharp slowdown after the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Additionally, Greece’s stubbornly high unemployment has dropped a few percentage points and the government has also tidied up public finances by cutting its budget deficit to below the 3 percent limit allowed by Brussels. Although the government’s current four-year term ends in March next year, the prime minister is seen as calling elections for September before the next budget is prepared and sent to the European Commission. Some political commentators expect Karamanlis to take advantage of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) at the start of September to announce handouts aimed at strengthening lower income groups.