Stage set for election campaign

As politicians and businessmen flooded into Thessaloniki yesterday for the city’s landmark political event, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was reportedly in back-to-back meetings with top aides, preparing for a speech in the northern city tomorrow, when he is expected to detail his strategy for kick-starting the sputtering national economy if re-elected in snap polls next month. The premier was conspicuous in his absence yesterday, unlike the two days before, when he had heralded early elections in a televised public address and paid a visit on President Karolos Papoulias to ask him to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for snap polls. Sources told Kathimerini that Karamanlis had several meetings with close aides and ministers to determine how the ruling conservatives should launch their campaigning at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF). From his podium in Thessaloniki today, the premier is expected to elaborate on the plans he announced earlier this week for reforms of the beleaguered economy. Karamanlis had highlighted deeper structural reforms, a heavy crackdown on tax evasion and curbs on public spending as priorities. According to sources, Karamanlis, whose conservatives are trailing the main opposition PASOK by 6 percent in opinion polls, will seek to boost the image he has projected as the «responsible» choice of premier rather than personally attacking PASOK leader George Papandreou. Papandreou, for his part, had clearly hit the campaign trail. Television coverage showed him with his shirt sleeves rolled up, shaking hands with representatives of business sectors. On Thursday night, Papandreou had addressed a large crowd in central Thiseio, pledging that his socialist party was «out in front» and ready to govern. Sources said one of the Socialists’ biggest problems will be presenting a viable alternative plan for economic reform. As for the conservatives, sources said that one of their key concerns – apart from explaining the rationale behind the decision for early elections – is creating a clear dividing line between them and the far-right Orthodox Popular Rally (LAOS).