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Pikramenos to Lead Soured Greeks Ahead of June 17 Elections

ATHENS – With the collapse of talks to form a coalition government in the wake of the May 6 stalemated elections that failed to give any party a mandate to rule, Greece has come under the temporary control of a caretaker government ahead of new polls on June 17.
The leader will be Council of State President Panayiotis Pikramenos, one of the three highest-ranking judges in the country, state television reported following the completion of the latest meeting of embattled party leaders under President Karolos Papoulias. Pikramenos is set to be sworn in at 8 p.m. Athens time on May 16. He will form a Cabinet on May 17, when Parliament will be sworn in and then dissolved so the new campaign can begin.
The pun of a temporary leader named Pikramenos – it means “embittered” in Greek – was not lost on a populace enraged over pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions. His brief administration will be in near-limbo until a permanent government can be established, although there are fears the next election will also be deadlocked as the country’s political leaders keep engaging in finger-pointing and blaming each other.
There was reportedly a dispute, however, between wrangling party leaders about who should assume the role with PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos and conservative New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras said to want former European Central Bank (ECB) Vice-President Lucas Papademos, the interim Premier during a shaky coalition government the previous six months, to come back for the next month. State TV reported that Alexis Tsipras, whose Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party finished a surprise second, preferred Gerasimos Arsenis, a veteran socialist and former minister. But Papoulias, in line with the constitution, decided to appoint the head of one of Greece’s three highest courts.
Emerging from the talks, Communist Party (KKE) leader Aleka Papariga told reporters that “political games were played even in talks for the appointment of a caretaker prime minister.” The leader of the Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, said he had insisted that the premier, and indeed the caretaker government, be “politically neutral.”
The political instability is threatening Greece’s position in the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency with fears that being forced out of the economic bloc could complete the country’s catastrophe. Greece is surviving on a first bailout of $152 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), which is set to begin releasing a second series of $173 billion in rescue loans, but only if the next government continues more austerity measures. Those conditions are supported by Samaras and Venizelos, but opposed by the other five parties that won enough votes to gain seats in Parliament and led to the failure to form a government. The leaders of all the parties elected, except for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party chief Nikos Michaloliakos, met with Papoulias.
Already there are signs of near-panic in some sectors, with Greeks withdrawing $892 million on May 7 from already-shaky Greek banks who suffered losses of 74 percent of the Greek bond holdings, imposed by Venizelos when he was finance minister of the brief coalition. The delay in forming a government is also holding up recapitalizing the banks with more revenues amid fears that another stalemate could lead to a run on their banks and their collapse or nationalization.
According to notes from the meeting, Papoulias said that Bank of Greece Governor Giorgos Provopoulos said there was no panic or danger of a bank run at the moment but he expressed concern that “fear could turn into panic.” An average of almost $3.8 billion has been withdrawn from Greek banks each month since the crisis more than two years ago,  and the Financial Times quoted unnamed banking sources as saying that about $6.37 billion has been withdrawn this month alone.
France’s new Socialist President Francois Hollande, who won on an anti-austerity campaign, sought to assuage fears about Greece’s future when he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on May 15. “I hope that we can say to the Greeks that Europe is ready to add measures to help growth and support economic activity so that there is a return to growth in Greece,” he said.
But German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who insists on more pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and other Draconian measures in Greece, said the country’s political leaders have no wiggle room on have to abide by the terms or the money pipeline will be shut off.
“This is an aid program that was prepared down to the last detail, we cannot re-negotiate it,” Schaeuble told Deutschlandfunk radio. “Even if they form a government, it remains to be seen if they will find some sort of compromise with Europe, because if you look at the European rhetoric, it doesn’t seem too happy to give too many concessions to Greece at this point,” Philippe Gijsels, head of research at BNP Paribas Fortis Global Markets in Brussels, told Reuters.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters)

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