Posted on: 13/Apr/2011
MONTHS ago, when the government expected a package deal on the eurozone debt crisis, many in Pasok anticipated that Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party would be dragged along to support a deal that would again avert immediate bankruptcy.
Now that the EU has made its decisions and the 2012-2015 fiscal plan will feature a barrage of harsh measures to deal with the huge revenue shortfalls, ND has dug in its heels and is blasting the government on all fronts.
Any hope of support from the opposition is undermined by a barrage of press reports predicting a restructuring of the Greek debt which were fuelled by Premier George Papandreou’s April 4 meeting with financier George Soros (see pages 8-9). But even Pasok MPs, such as Pantelis Economou and Mimis Androulakis, are now publicly supporting restructuring. Elena Panariti, handpicked by Papandreou for the statewide ticket in 2009, said that restructuring should not be “demonised”.
What is worse, the ruling party’s parliamentary group has more broadly become a harsh government critic.
The regular meetings of MPs in Pasok’s economy division, where Finance Minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou is routinely lambasted by MPs, have for some time served to vent steam and desperation. The latest on April 5 was among the most revealing, with finance committee chairperson Vasso Papandreou leading a chorus of complaints about broken government pledges of no new austerity measures.
Pitting Pasok vs Pasok
The acid test for the government, however, will be on April 15, when the cabinet is to approve the programmes for privatisation, development and short-term fiscal measures to plug the mounting revenue hole.
The privatisation of huge public companies like the Public Power Corporation will pit the government against the powerful Pasok-controlled unions that have been an integral part of the party’s electoral base and system of governance for decades.
Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Theodoros Pangalos fired the opening salvo in an April 6 interview, saying that Pasok standing against Pasok on such a major issue “is not a bad thing”. He argued that public companies have far too long operated in the interests of their employees, rather than those of their consumers.
Pangalos also argued that “austerity is not a bad thing”. It means you have money and don’t spend it, he said, rather than borrow and spend, as in the past.
Such pronouncements are no help for Pasok backbenchers. They will bear the brunt of the political cost of increasingly tough austerity, especially if Papandreou decides on a snap election, in which MPs will fight tooth-and-nail over voters’ preferential ballot crosses.
The prime minister has reportedly signalled that he will not hesitate to go to the polls if any government bill is voted down in parliament, with expulsion waiting for any MP who votes down a bill. Such threats are clearly designed to keep Pasok MPs in line, and past experience shows that they are by no means idle.
With the popularity of the government and the premier dropping, many MPs have turned their fire on Finance Minister Yiorgos Papakonstantinou, hoping perhaps to save themselves politically by scapegoating him.
Papakonstantinou insists that salary and pension cuts are not on the cards, and that revenue shortfalls will be covered by structural reforms such as privatisations of publicly owned companies.
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