Parties reach agreement on two TV debates

A cross-party pre-election committee yesterday gave the green light for two televised debates in the countdown to snap polls next month – one pitting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis against main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou for the first time and the second bringing together representatives of all five parties with seats in Parliament. The much-awaited face-off between Karamanlis and Papandreou is to be preceded by the panel of representatives, though no dates were set for the two debates. It remained unclear who would represent the deeply divided Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which is heading into the forthcoming elections without a leader. Both Karamanlis and Papandreou are said to have welcomed the prospect of the debates. Indeed, sources revealed that Karamanlis was interested in two face-to-face exchanges with Papandreou. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros reportedly telephoned his counterpart at PASOK Giorgos Papaconstantinou last night to discuss the terms under which the debates will be conducted. Earlier, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, New Democracy’s press spokesman in the countdown to elections, stressed the importance of «substantial discussion without empty rhetoric.» Koumoutsakos said the debates would include questions by reporters but did not satisfy a PASOK request for members of the studio audience to participate in the discussion. Both the ND and PASOK camps reportedly believe that the face-to-face debate will reveal the weaknesses of the other side. Among the ranks of ND there is a conviction that the exchange between Karamanlis and Papandreou will highlight holes in PASOK’s economic policy proposals. The PASOK camp, meanwhile, is reportedly convinced that a head-to-head between the leaders of the two main parties will highlight the failures of the ruling party and its responsibility for current economic and social problems. In another sign that PASOK is distancing itself from its party’s old guard, former minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos said yesterday that he would not be running as a candidate for parliament in these elections.