ATHENS – Reaching out to Right-Wingers who are leaving his Conservative party ahead of the May 6 elections, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said he would get tough on crime, repeal laws giving citizenship to second generation immigrants born in Greece, and allow police to use water cannons to break up protests, two years of which have beset a government that has imposed harsh austerity measures on working class Greeks, pensioners and the poor. In a speech to his party membership, with frequent references to the Greek Orthodox faith and patriotic themes, Samaras said, “That which I am proposing today constitutes real change. Revolution. Not violent, but real revolution.”
Samaras’s party is leading in the polls, but with only about 20 percent compared to about 14 percent for its bitter rival PASOK Socialists with whom it is sharing power in a shaky hybrid government overseen by a former European Central Bank (ECB) Vice-President, who helped engineer a second bailout of $173 billion from international lenders to prop up the country’s failed economy. But, as did a first series of $152 billion in rescue loans from the European Union-International Monetary Fund-ECB, the new package comes with pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions as well as new conditions, including the firing of 150,000 public workers over three years.
That has set off a fury against New Democracy and PASOK, who support the measures but have been trying to distance themselves from them. Samaras set out what he called a “Social Contract,” for political and social reforms, which includes reducing the number of Members of Parliament. There are 300 in the body, one of the largest proportional representations in the world. He said he would reduce the number of ministries to 10 and would force ministers to quit their jobs as MPs when they join the Cabinet so they can’t double dip and get more pay, and that he wanted to end the practice of immunity for MP’s for all crimes while in office.
“Greece is a country, it is not just an area and the Greeks are a people not just a population,” said Samaras. He attacked the left for what he called “ideological terrorism” in the past and said that the conservatives had begun to break down some taboos, such as changing the immunity law that prevented police entering university grounds. Samaras also advocated a tougher line on illegal immigration, which he called an “unarmed invasion” and said he would go after crime and rioting. He said he would “take down rioters’ hoods,” a reference to the hooded sweatshirts used by self-styled anarchists who toss Molotov Cocktails and police, advocated a major clampdown on petty crime, including drugs use, by allowing police to use CCTV cameras and water cannons against protesters.
He also said New Democracy would repeal the citizenship law passed by the PASOK government in 2010, which allows second generation immigrants to apply to become Greek citizens. Samaras argued that the legislation had made Greece a “magnet” for illegal immigrants and that even those born in Greece and who speak Greek and have been educated here should be citizens.
He also pledged to push the European Union to change a regulation forcing asylum seekers to be returned to Greece for processing if it was their point of entry to the EU. “Greece has become a warehouse for all the undesirables,” Samaras told a crowd of party members at the Zappeio Hall in Athens. Mainstream politicians are limiting themselves to preaching to their faithful in closed halls to avoid being harangued or assaulted by citizens.
He said the previous PASOK government had overlooked the military and weakened the country’s security. “We have to honor our armed forces,” he said. “There is no homeland without patriotism. There is no patriotism without pride.” Despite that speech, Greece will be cutting defense spending up to 30 percent and the Troika has said any attempts to tinker with reforms would result in the money pipeline being cut off.
With neither PASOK nor New Democracy showing enough support to win a majority, there is the likelihood of another coalition government – perhaps requiring a third party – but Samaras rejected the idea. He called for a mandate and said he would win more than 50 percent of the vote, although many Greeks blame his party for lying about the country’s economic condition just before it lost the 2009 election and set off the economic crisis.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Wall Street Journal)