Debate gives voters much to ponder

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and PASOK leader George Papandreou faced off last night in what proved to be a livelier televised debate than many people expected. It was the second and last election debate before Greek voters go to the polls on October 4 but, in contrast to Monday’s discussion, when the leaders of six parties took part, only Karamanlis and Papandreou were present yesterday. The other difference was the presence of only a moderator yesterday rather than the six journalists who took part on Monday. Last night’s format allowed the two party leaders to address each other with three-minute or one-minute statements and responses to the other’s position. As on Monday, the economy was the subject on which the two leaders began their discussion. «We have to tackle the public debt now, so tougher measures are not needed in the future,» said Karamanlis. «We have two difficult years ahead of us and we have a tough uphill road ahead of us on one hand and wishful thinking on the other.» Papandreou posed a different type of dilemma to the electorate. «Either we have a government that wastes money on patron-client relationships or a government that will conduct some housekeeping,» said the PASOK leader. «The dilemma is which government will bring the average Greek family to its knees and which government will give hope of prosperity.» In an effort to kill off questions about how PASOK would fund planned rises in public sector wages and pensions, Papandreou said he would collect up to 3 billion euros in uncollected taxes, from tax dodgers, by absorbing more European Union funds and by making use of public property that is sitting idle. The PASOK leader also offered to send Karamanlis the Socialist party’s manifesto in response to charges that the opposition had only adopted vague positions. The two leaders then clashed on issues such as education reform, work experience programs and the viability of pension funds before moving on to the issue of corruption. «There is bureaucracy, legal complexity, corruption and a lack of transparency,» said Papandreou. «What has the government done to improve public administration? Let me remind you of the cases that have dominated over the last six years: structured bonds, Cosmote, Vatopedi, Siemens and others.» «We referred any case that appeared to the justice system,» responded Karamanlis. «The biggest scandal in recent years is the case of the 1999 stock market bubble,» added the prime minister, referring to an incident that happened while PASOK was in power. The environment and foreign policy were the final topics of debate before a brief summing up. More interviews and public speeches to close out campaign Both New Democracy and PASOK yesterday declared they were satisfied with their leaders’ performances in the first televised debate on Monday night, as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and George Papandreou prepare for a series of public rallies and TV interviews in the runup to the October 4 election. The view from ND party headquarters was that Karamanlis was able to create a strong contrast between his clear policies and the vaguer stance of Papandreou. PASOK, however, was pleased with Papandreou’s appearance, arguing that he was calm and exposed the weaknesses in the government’s policies. Karamanlis will try to build on his performance in the debates with a series of speeches around the country. On Friday, he will be in Kozani, on Saturday in Patra and on Sunday in Iraklio, Crete. He will also give at least two more interviews on primetime TV and one on a morning show. ND sources said that the conservatives would continue to campaign on the main theme of asking voters to choose whose hand they would rather have on the country’s tiller in a time of crisis. Papandreou is also planning to give a series of TV and radio interviews over the next few days. A PASOK source said that the opposition leader would try to cram in as many televised interviews as possible before October 4, as he has yet to appear on any of the country’s TV channels during this campaign. Papandreou will speak in public in Iraklio on Friday, Larissa on Sunday, Thessaloniki on Tuesday, Athens on Thursday and Patra on Friday.