ND floor appears open for critics

New Democracy MPs showed no signs yesterday that they intend to quietly toe the party line as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis faces a dilemma over how to deal with the rebels due to his party’s slim majority in Parliament. The conservatives have only 152 of the 300 seats in the House, and this majority was only re-established when Costas Koukodimos returned from self-imposed exile last month. His return prompted speculation that Petros Tatoulis, a former culture minister who has launched several outspoken attacks on the government, would be excluded from ND’s parliamentary group. But this has not happened. Instead, another dissenting voice in the form of deputy Yiannis Manolis has been added to those within the government who are willing to publicly criticize its work. Yesterday, another conservative MP, Panayiotis Skandalakis fired a broadside at some ministers and managers at public utilities for being out of touch with the public. Larissa deputy Maximos Harakopoulos spoke out in defense of the critics, saying that they had a right to air their views. Koukodimos’s return toward the end of last month has failed to give Karamanlis greater freedom in dealing with the ND rebels because another of his deputies, former Aegean Minister Aristoteles Pavlidis, was last week implicated in a graft case. This followed charges of blackmail against Pavlidis’s former aide over claims by shipowner Fotis Manousis that he paid 1 million euros annually in bribes to secure state subsidies for routes to remote islands. Pavlidis denies the charges and said he will not leave the party. But if he were charged, Karamanlis would have to exile him and would again be left with a wafer-thin majority.