Leaders clash in televised poll debate

Trailing PASOK in the polls and with time running out to claw back the difference, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis displayed a belligerent mood in the televised debate last night between the leaders of the six main parties. Mirroring his speeches, Karamanlis urged Greeks to vote New Democracy into power for a third straight term as the responsible choice in a time of crisis rather than trust the promises being made by PASOK and its leader George Papandreou. One of the highlights of the night came when, in a departure from previous debates, the leaders – who had to answer a total of 36 questions posed by six journalists on six broad themes – were also given the opportunity to ask one another one question. Karamanlis and Papandreou posed their questions to each other. Karamanlis asked Papandreou to be more specific about how he would fund an increase in public spending, which the government claims would cost some 10 billion euros. «He agrees that there is a need for housekeeping but at the same time he says he will hand out 10 billion euros,» said Karamanlis. «You dare to speak six years after waste and handouts sent the country’s deficit and debt spiraling out of control?» responded Papandreou, who claimed PASOK’s plan to stimulate the economy, including via public sector pay rises, would cost 3 billion euros. Papandreou fluffed his chance to hit back with a strong question, failing to keep to his 30-second time limit as he asked about the government’s failure to stamp out corruption. Karamanlis grabbed the opportunity to again define the choice that the electorate faces on October 4 as being very simple. «The road of responsibility or the one of irresponsibility and vague promises?» The debate proved to be more lively than the one in 2007. Each journalist was allowed to ask each leader a question on the same topic before a new journalist and topic took over. This format provided greater continuity than in previous years. The leaders of the smaller parties this time included Nikos Chrysogelos of the Ecologist Greens, who gave probably the most relaxed performance of the night despite his party seeming to be on the verge of gaining enough support to enter Parliament. The leader of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), Giorgos Karat-zaferis, was asked repeatedly to answer questions about immigration, while Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga and Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) representative Alexis Tsipras had to respond to queries about economic policy and public demonstrations. Karamanlis and Papandreou are due to go head-to-head in a separate debate tonight. New Democracy appeals to grass roots; PASOK insists it is the party of renewal A day after the two main parties announced their lists for state deputies in forthcoming elections, sources told Kathimerini that ruling New Democracy had chosen its candidates with the aim of appealing to its grass roots while also injecting new blood into the party. Meanwhile, the main opposition PASOK criticized the ruling party for sticking with established cadres and party officials on its list instead of selecting eminent personalities outside politics. Debate continued yesterday about the decision to include ND’s former party leader Miltiades Evert at the bottom of the ruling party’s list. In a letter to Prime Minister Karamanlis, made public yesterday, Evert notes that his refusal to accept the premier’s invitation to top the list had been motivated by a desire «to contribute to the renewal of the party.» In a written response to Evert from Karamanlis, the premier praised the veteran cadre’s initiative. «Your stance provides more proof of the ethos and decency that have characterized your political career,» the letter said. Sources said the absence from ND’s list of former minister Marietta Giannakou also had been a decision taken by the latter to facilitate the premier. Meanwhile, PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou questioned ND’s claims to be seeking renewal. «On ND’s list we have two serving ministers, a former party leader, three general secretaries and the government spokesman,» he said. In contrast, Papaconstantinou stressed PASOK’s «particular joy» at the «public response to PASOK’s list, which inspires renewal and reaches out to society.»