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Rivals Ridicule Samaras Cabinet Shakeup

No changes here: PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos (L) is still Deputy Premier for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
No changes here: PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos (L) is still Deputy Premier for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ revamped Cabinet, which still includes most of the familiar faces of his ruling New Democracy Conservatives and partner the PASOK Socialists, was dismissed by his rivals as a desperate attempt to regain standing after his party’s loss in the European Parliament elections.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), as expected, led the hit parade of criticism. The Leftists oppose the harsh austerity measures Samaras continued to impose on orders of the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
SYRIZA came first in Greece’s polls for the European Parliament elections and used that triumph to continue to goad Samaras and his administration, with the radicalists saying he acted frantically to do damage control without changing the government’s real face.
“Nobody believes that today’s reshuffle will influence […] the implemented policy and bailout commitments of Mr. Samaras’ government. The government not only did not receive the election message, but it is trying to overtake it with a reshuffle that confirms the strict implementation of commitments towards creditors, while being indifferent to the plight of the Greek people,” a SYRIZA statement said.
“What the country needs is not pointless reshuffles, but a government that will stop being the overseer of the creditors’ interests,” it added in another poke at Samaras, who has made a habit out of Cabinet shakeups every time he slips in the polls. Samaras changed about half of his Cabinet leaders, although counting assistants he has 46 people under him. He had promised to reduce it.
The marginalized Democratic Left (DIMAR), which was a member of the coalition until leaving last year in a huff over the firing of public workers it opposed, added that, “Governments are not judged by the people, but the content of the implemented policies.”
It went on: “If the new government remains bound by the political obsessions and ideological inflexibility that characterized the previous one, then it is certain they neither society, nor the economy will catch a breath,” said DIMAR’s statement, without adding that it had backed the policies it now opposes
The DIMAR announcement added that the renegotiation of the Greek program “which lead country to a complete dead end and injured social cohesion irreparably” is now necessary more than ever. DIMAR finished dead last among major parties in Greece in the EU ballot with 1.5 percent of the vote and has no real standing.
The new populist political movement To Potami (The River) that was founded by former TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis to oppose the government but says it will work with PASOK’s Members of the European Parliament in Brussels, took a shot at the government too, which includes PASOK.
The To Potami statement said that the new government, which is essentially the old government with a few changes, is designed “for election campaign television appearances and not for solution.”
To Potami added that “the recycling of known and failed – in many cases – officers proves the old political system’s deadlock. The country must move forward in order to be saved, but Samaras and (PASOK leader Evangelos) Venizelos are turning out to be mere balancers, bound by their past and ultimately worshipers of stillness.”
There was no explanation of why it criticized PASOK but will work with it in the European Parliament.
Among the few changes Samaras made was the most important position, naming economist and banker Gikas Hardouvelis Finance Minister to replace think tank technocrat Yannis Stournaras who has widely been reported as the next Governor of the Bank of Greece to replace Giorgos Provopoulos, whose term expires later this month.
Stournaras, who was appointed in mid-2012, handled Greece’s bailout negotiations with the The Troika and oversaw the country’s tentative return to financial markets earlier this year.
Hardouvelis, chief economist at Eurobank, a bank notorious for hounding austerity-crushed Greeks to repay loans, credit cards and mortgages even if they can’t, was an economic adviser to two previous governments, those of PASOK prime minister Costas Simitis in 2000-2004 and of interim premier, Lucas Papademos, also a banker, in late 2011-mid-2012.
The Finance Minister is a key position in the country whose near default is broadly blamed for sparking a financial crisis in the Eurozone after successive PASOK and New Democracy governments hired hundreds of thousands of needless workers for decades in return for votes.
“Greece is suffering. Every household has at least one unemployed person or someone who is working and not being paid,” Hardouvelis told Greek television station Antenna, without noting that politicians and the rich aren’t suffering and have even prospered in a crisis that has affected millions of others.
Greece has survived on 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two Troika bailouts since 2010 but both Samaras and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said debt relief is needed, although they differ slightly on what form that should take, a task that will now fall to Hardouvelis.
“Greece must find its way. It doesn’t have just the Troika to face. There is much to be done,” Hardouvelis told Antenna. “We have a marathon before us,” showing some skepticism himself just as Samaras is trying to be more buoyant and predicting a coming recovery that Hardouvelis seemed to doubt was imminent.
Seeking to strike a balance with his coalition partner, the PASOK party that suffered a dramatic collapse in popularity during the financial crisis, Samaras distributed new positions among members of both parties, including the ministers of the interior, public order, education, culture, health and agriculture.
Other key changes in the cabinet included Sofia Voultepsi taking over as government spokesperson from Simos Kedikoglou, who left the government. It was Voultepsi who announced the new lineup on Monday.
Additional surprise moves include the appointment of New Democracy MP Argyris Dinopoulos as interior minister, replacing Yiannis Michelakis, who was not given another post.
ND MP Constantinos Tasoulas took over as head of the Culture Ministry, ejecting Panos Panayiotopoulos, while Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos was replaced by former PASOK minister Andreas Loverdos.
ND’s parliamentary spokesman Makis Voridis took the top slot at the Health Ministry, replacing Adonis Georgiadis, his former fellow MP at right-wing LAOS. The new public order minister is ND’s Vassilis Kikilias, with incumbent Nikos Dendias picking up the Development Ministry portfolio, replacing Costis Hatzidakis, who has left the government. The Agricultural Development portfolio meanwhile went to ND’s Giorgos Karasmanis who replaces Athanasios Tsaftaris.
Those staying in their posts include Evangelos Venizelos, as deputy PM and foreign minister, Defense Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, Environment Minister Yiannis Maniatis, Transport Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni and Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis.

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