Party leaders prepare for crucial face-off

As President Karolos Papoulias signed the decree to dissolve Parliament yesterday, paving the way for snap polls on October 4, the central committees of the country’s political parties set about preparing for a short but highly charged pre-election campaign. In the ruling New Democracy camp, the outlook was said to be upbeat yesterday following an impassioned speech by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) on Saturday. According to sources, Karamanlis is considering challenging the leader of the main opposition party PASOK to a televised exchange of opinions. «It is imperative that such an initiative is taken, as voters must choose who they want to lead them out of the crisis,» Karamanlis is quoted as saying. The premier reportedly took the frank, straightforward approach that characterized his speech in Thessaloniki to a new level, declaring that «the age of empty rhetoric is over» and calling on PASOK to «submit clear proposals.» Reports late yesterday indicated that PASOK is open to the possibility of a televised debate between the leaders of the two main parties. Earlier in the day, PASOK leader George Papandreou had met with managers and employees of businesses in Piraeus and assured them that the socialists were their best bet for a swift recovery from the impact of the global financial crisis. Papandreou is to step up his public appearances over the next few days in preparation for his speech at TIF on Saturday. But behind the smiles and posturing yesterday, there were concerns as established political veterans announced that they would not run as candidates in next month’s elections. In the conservative camp, former Parliament Speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki said she would not be a candidate – another high-profile withdrawal following that last week of former minister Michalis Liapis, who is Karamanlis’s cousin. In PASOK’s camp, former ministers Alekos Papadopoulos and Nikos Christodoulakis said they would not be running. The most significant figure to bow out of the race yesterday, however, was Alekos Alavanos, the head of the parliamentary group of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the fourth largest parliamentary party. Alavanos had become increasingly at odds with the young leader of the coalition’s main party Synaspismos, Alexis Tsipras.