Leaders hit the campaign trail as race begins

The campaign for the September 16 general election got under way over the weekend with both Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and PASOK leader George Papandreou taking their message to voters while rallying their MPs for the coming electoral battle. Karamanlis spoke to his deputies on Saturday before heading for Drama, northern Greece, yesterday where he gave his first speech on the campaign trail. «Today, the country finds itself at a crucial crossroads, again,» said Karamanlis. «The time for elections has come and this is linked to the preparation of the new budget… the constitutional review… the freeing up of potential in the education system… the strengthening of the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary.» Karamanlis defended his government’s record in the three-and-a-half years it has been in power and accused PASOK of trying to «polarize» and «fanaticize» the electorate. «We have decided not to follow them on the slippery slope they have chosen,» he said. Papandreou on Saturday visited voters in Achaia in the northern Peloponnese who have been hit by recent wildfires. Yesterday, he spoke to his party’s national council in Athens. «We are headed for a major victory in the September 16 election,» Papandreou told party members who gathered to approve the list of PASOK candidates for next month’s poll. «It is a victory that the Greek people desire.» Papandreou accused Karamanlis of calling a snap election because he is worried about «terrible revelations» regarding the bond scandal. Speaking to Sunday’s Kathimerini, State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos denied that the timing of the election had anything to do with the briefing of MPs on the bond investigation by the head of the committee formed to combat money laundering, Giorgos Zorbas, which had been scheduled for this week. «The Zorbas report is in the judiciary’s hands, not the government’s,» said Roussopoulos. «This issue played no part, for we have nothing to fear.» Roussopoulos, who has temporarily stepped down as government spokesman so he can stand as a candidate, said that three questions will decide the election. «Karamanlis or Papandreou? Reforms or stagnation? Stability and confidence for a better tomorrow or a step backward?» PASOK veteran Theodoros Pangalos told Kathimerini that the Socialists could pull off a «surprise» and win the election. «We need to immediately call for a general mobilization,» said Pangalos. «We do not have the room to maneuver that we would have had if the election was being held in March to let people know about our policies. This must be our main aim now.»