Posted on: 26/Apr/2011
HE HAS appeared in public in a Zorro costume. He has dressed as Santa Claus, handing out gifts to children in Thessaloniki. The press has published photos of him doing bungee jumping, singing at the bouzoukia, riding a horse, playing football and singing psalms in church.
Yet the glory days of Panayiotis Psomiadis, the regional governor of Central Macedonia, seem to be over after the Court of Appeals of Thessaloniki decided on April 7 to uphold a suspended 12-month prison sentence imposed on him in February 2009. A first-instance court had found Psomiadis guilty of breach of duty for reducing to 5,000 euros an 89,000 euro fine imposed on a petrol station owner who was caught five times selling adulterated fuel. The reduction was enacted by Psomiadis in 2005 while he was serving as Thessaloniki prefect.
As soon as Efthymios Sokos, secretary-general of the decentralised administration of Macedonia-Thrace, receives the appeals decision, he will impose a temporary suspension of Psomiadis in a decision that will have to be ratified by the ministry of interior. That could bring an abrupt end to Psomiadis’ political career, which started almost 30 years ago. It was only two years ago that he garnered a respectable 10.7 percent of the vote in an New Democracy leaderchip race.
As a teenager, Psomiadis was a keen sprinter. Having distinguished himself at local and national youth championships, he managed to gain the credits he needed to enrol in the department of physical education and sport science of the University of Thessaloniki. He never completed his studies, but chose to leave the world of sports for the world of commerce, starting up several small enterprises.
Psomadis’ political career kicked off back in 1982. It was then that the 34-year-old son of Chryssoula and Haralambos Psomiadis, two Pontic Greeks of Thessaloniki, was elected for the first time as a municipal councillor in the second biggest city in Greece. Four years later not only was he re-elected, but he also won the most votes. A new political star was born in northern Greece.
The municipal council proved to be too small for Psomiadis. In 1990 he made his way to parliament, after being elected as one of the MPs of Thessaloniki for New Democracy (ND). In the following years, his popularity among his fellow citizens was rising. His populist and often nationalist rhetoric was criticised sharply by analysts and opposition politicians, but from 1990 to 2000 Psomiadis failed to get elected to the national parliament only once.
In 1998 he expressed his will to be supported by ND as the candidate mayor of Thessaloniki, but the main opposition party chose Vasilis Papageorgopoulos instead. Psomiadis, however, had made up his mind: he wanted to make a comeback to local politics. In 2002 ND endorsed him as a candidate for prefect of Thessaloniki. The opposition parties pointed out some of the most controversial statements of Psomiadis, such as the term “revolution” that he had used to describe the coup d’etat in April 1967 that overthrew the government and established the dictatorship of the colonels.
Nevertheless, Psomiadis won two successive elections in 2002 and 2006 and served for eight years as the prefect of Thessaloniki. The media frenzy that surrounded him helped him ride the waves of popularity, even though he kept making more controversial statements. In Psomiadis’ view, some male journalists “wear G-strings”, “Someone is born Greek, you can’t become Greek”, some of the Albanians living in Greece are “scum” and the Kallikratis law that reformed regional government is remeniscent of a “transsexual”.
“He is a good man. He is a fighter,” Dimitris Tzirkas, one of his supporters in a village outside Thessaloniki, told daily Ta Nea in October 2006. “He always joins us in our festivities, he supports our local associations, he helps the shepherds and the farmers and is eager to discuss any issue that we raise,” Tzirkas explained.
The Kallikratis reform was implemented and Psomiadis was elected in November 2010 as the regional governor of Central Macedonia. One year earlier, he ran for the leadership of ND, gaining 78,770 votes (10.22%) and finishing third after Antonis Samaras and Dora Bakoyannis.
In the dozens of interviews that he gave after his conviction on April 7, Psomiadis insisted that he acted in a humane manner, considering the petrol station owner’s serious health problems at the time. ND upheld this view. The road that leads to Psomiadis’ removal, however, seems to be a one-way street.
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