NEWS

Ministers rush to PM’s defense

Ministers and other high-ranking cadres of ruling PASOK yesterday rallied around Prime Minister George Papandreou, defending the premier’s televised appeal to Greeks to use imminent local authority elections as an opportunity to bolster the debt-ridden government in its bid to push through reforms. As speculation continued in the media and political circles about Papandreou’s comments on Monday night – chiefly the fact that the premier refused to rule out calling general elections in the event that PASOK suffers heavy losses in local polls – several ministers rushed to back their leader. Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos suggested that the local polls would be a litmus test of the government’s ability to continue with tough reforms. «If there is not adequate turnout [at the polls], we cannot keep going,» Pangalos told Antenna radio station. Nevertheless, Pangalos said he opposed general elections «in principle» at this stage. Another Cabinet member who defended the premier’s comments was Agricultural Development and Food Minister Costas Skandalidis. He said Papandreou «cannot be prime minister under duress,» suggesting that the premier may require a new public mandate. Other senior cadres were keen to differentiate local authority polls from general elections. «Governments do not fall in municipal elections,» remarked Alternate Defense Minister Panos Beglitis. As Papandreou stressed his government’s commitment to «freeing Greece from all forms of subjugation and stewardship» during a visit to Thessaloniki, opposition party leaders were quick to criticize the premier’s comments on Monday night. Most accused Papandreou of «blackmailing» Greeks by hinting at the possibility of calling general elections. «This is the first time we see a leader, certain of defeat, threatening and blackmailing his people,» said conservative New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras. Meanwhile, in a related development, Alekos Alavanos, the former leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), announced that he would be forming his own party soon. In a clear swipe at SYRIZA, currently headed by his former protegee Alexis Tsipras, Alavanos said that existing parties on the left of the political spectrum «do not express the principles of the Left.»