ATHENS – After the first week of a four-week campaign in which there was virtually no campaigning before the critical June 17 elections, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras came out swinging on May 26, accusing Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras of wanting to bring Greeks back to the drachma and economic ruin.
Tsipras, 37, whose party finished a surprise second to New Democracy in the stalemated May 6 elections which failed to produce a government, is vehemently against the austerity measures supported by Samaras and demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailouts to prop up the country’s near-dead economy. Samaras, as did his partner in a brief, shaky hybrid government, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, signed a memorandum with the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) Troika agreeing to pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions as a condition for the rescue loans.
After their parties were repudiated by furious Greeks in the first elections, Samaras and Venizelos said they had a change-of-heart and wanted to renegotiate some of the terms too, and Samaras said Troika demands for an additional $15 billion in cuts should be suspended for three years. The Troika has said any attempt to tinker with reforms could lead to the loans being stopped, which could force Greece out of the Eurozone of countries using the euro.
As he opened his party’s National Conference at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Piraeus, another of the members-only rallies he has conducted, Samaras accused SYRIZA of serving the pro-drachma lobby, which he described as “a web of entangled interests including those who have taken their money abroad so as to return after the exit from the Eurozone and buy Greece on a cheap rate to become the new oligarchs; that’s who SYRIZA serves.”
Samaras is amping up the thunder against SYRIZA as polls show them in a neck-and-neck race to win the elections. “You say you are going to abandon the bailout memorandum. Are you also going to abandon the debt haircut?” Samaras of Tsipras, referring to a $134 billion debt write-down Greece got after imposing 74 percent losses on investors, including the country’s floundering banks. Samaras called on his party members and supporters to rally together. “There are times in the life of a political party when hardship turns into strength. You ought to be proud that you are the shield for the safeguarding of what the Greek people have achieved. Today I am addressing a rally of fighters who on June 17 will become government.”
Samaras said Greece will go bankrupt – although it already technically is, depending on aid to pay workers, pensioners, and its bills – and be kicked out of the Eurozone if it breaks its deal with the Troika, although he wants to change some of the terms himself. “The termination of the memorandum will lead Greece out of the euro,” Samaras said. “Greece would be led into uncontrolled bankruptcy, with living standards cut to a quarter of what they are today.”
He said if Greece goes back to the drachma, it would be devalued by at least half against the euro, prices would rise by at least 25 percent and the country’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product would double, he said. “No society, no economy and no democracy can tolerate such a sudden collapse in so little time,” he said.
Samaras said if New Democracy wins, he could not only halt the soaring unemployment rate, which is now at 21.7 percent and with 1,000 businesses a week closing due to the austerity measures he supports, but he would create “hundreds of thousands of new jobs,” although he didn’t say how.
Samaras initially opposed the austerity measures when former PASOK leader and then Prime Minister George Papandreou was in power from 2009-11, then supported them to join a six-month coalition that has given way to a temporary caretaker government. Now with elections approaching, he said he opposes some of the conditions again. “In difficult times, people depend on their own souls,” said Samaras in the end, as former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose administration the EU said lied about the country’s economic condition and handed over a bankrupt government to Papandreou, led a standing ovation from the front row, near former Democratic Alliance leader Dora Bakoyanni, who disbanded her political group to return to New Democracy. Samaras, who beat back her bid to led the party, later ejected her for refusing to oppose the austerity measures that he now supports.
(Source: Kathimerini, Bloomberg)