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Antonis Samaras Sworn In As Prime Minister

ATHENS – New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, whose party finished first in the critical June 17 elections but with less than 30 percent of the vote, was sworn in as Prime Minister on June 20 after convincing his rivals, the PASOK Socialists, and the small Leftist party, the Democratic Left, to support a coalition, although they will take no part in it beyond giving his party their votes to control the Parliament and government.
The coalition parties got 48 percent of the vote but will have 179 seats in the 300-member Parliament and Samaras faces the immediate challenge of trying to live up to his campaign vows to revisit some of the terms of the harsh austerity measures demanded by international lenders that he signed and supported, along with PASOK’s leader, Evangelos Venizelos, when they shared a previous shaky hybrid governments before two rounds of elections. A May 6 ballot, that New Democracy also won, was stalemated when no party gained enough of the vote to form a government and coalition talks collapsed.
After being sworn in, Samaras emphasized the need for “patriotism, national unity and trust that with the help of God we can ensure that the Greek people emerge from the crisis as soon as possible” and would try to give Greeks “tangible hope.” He said, “I am fully aware of the critical moments we face as a country,” adding that the Greek people were “injured” and needed “healing.” He’ll have a skeptical audience as the coalition brings back to power the same two parties blamed for creating the country’s economic crisis by packing public payrolls with hundreds of thousands of unneeded workers for generations in return for votes.
Samaras worked out the details with his otherwise bitter ideological rival, PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos and Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis, to form a government that faces the difficult task of working together to try to renegotiate terms of austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for bailouts. Samaras and Venizelos supported the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions but said during the campaign that they wanted to re-negotiate some of the terms.
Their change of heart came after they were pushed by Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, a vehement opponent of austerity, who said he would have redrawn or reneged on the conditions set by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) in return for a second bailout of $173 billion that was withheld until after the vote. Greece is surviving on a first round rescue package of $152 billion from the Troika, which said the next government must adhere to austerity and make an additional $15 billion in cuts. Tsipras said he would maintain a ferocious opposition to austerity and any attempt to impose more harsh conditions on Greeks. Samaras won after warning Greeks that Tsipras would have driven Greece out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency.
Five of the seven parties elected to Parliament were opposed to austerity and got 58 percent of the vote, but Kouvelis said he joined the coalition only on condition that Samaras would gradually disengage from the conditions over the next few years and that his party would not take any Cabinet positions. After the May 6 elections, he turned down an offer to join a New Democracy-PASOK government because he said he feared being branded a traitor to the Left. He is a founding member of the Communist Youth party of Greece.
If Samaras’ government cannot succeed in buying more time for Greece to implement reforms, including the firing of 150,000 state workers, privatizing state enterprises and selling or leasing state properties, and opening closed professions to competition, the Troika warned the money pipeline could be cut off. But, in a sign that Tsipras’ hard line had some effect, IMF Chief Christine Lagarde said she might be willing to listen to the new government, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is footing much of the bills to save Greece, has drawn a line in the sand and said she won’t budge.
One of the most contentious issues coming out of the discussions was who would be in the Cabinet of a Tri-partite government. Media reports said that National Bank President Vassilis Rapanos would be Finance Minister, which may not sit well with SYRIZA or austerity opponents who said that Greece has been put into the hands of investors and bankers. Venizelos met with his party’s 33 Members of Parliament and convinced them that the Socialists should not provide any front line figures for government roles, a cautious stance analysts said was designed to allow him to deflect criticism if more protests, strikes and riots bring down the coalition, as it had to the PASOK administration of former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who stepped down in November last year, setting in motion a brief coalition and new elections.
Venizelos suggested that PASOK recommend that the new government include fewer politicians and more technocrats, figures such as caretaker Development Minister Yannis Stournaras and former Interior Minister Tasos Giannitsis as part of the cabinet. Venizelos met with some opposition from former PASOK Ministers who wanted to be brought back into the new government, including former Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, who wanted PASOK to take a more active part in the new coalition. There were reports that New Democracy’s Dimitris Avramopoulos would return to head the Defense Ministry, a position he held in the previous coalition. The Leftists may also ask for some of the members of the caretaker administration, such as Interior Minister Antonis Manitakis and Labor Minister Antonis Roupakiotis, to stay on.

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