ATHENS – Sparring for a general election coming later this year, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis verbally attacked each other – and their policies – in a Parliament debate ahead of May 26 elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities.
Polls have the Conservatives far ahead after Tsipras spent more than four years reneging on anti-austerity vows and as he’s anxiously trying to get back into the fight, claiming he’s brought an economic recovery but weighed down by the aftermath of the 2018 fires that killed 102 people and saw him taking a vacation on a yacht after that.
Their tangle came as New Democracy sought to censure Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis for accusing a severely-disabled Stelios Kymbouropoulos, who’s in a wheelchair, of using the disability to get a job in the public sector.
Kymbouropoulos is a doctor with a medical degree with honors and Polakis critics called him out as vile and heartless for going after him at the same time Tsipras is hiring party loyalists with few to no qualifications as Special Advisors and for high-ranking positions.
Tsipras turned the censure call into a vote of confidence, knowing he has the votes in the 300-member body to win with his party’s 145 members and a handful of alleged Independents who swore loyalty to him – one was appointed Culture Minister in return.
Mitsotakis went right at Tsipras over the fires after a SKAI TV documentary indicated the government had no real command operation for a response, no disaster plan, no evacuation plan and tried to hide, downplay and cover up the death toll.
The “moral advantage” that Tsipras’ SYRIZA claims to hold “sank in the blue-green waters of the Ionian,” Mitsotakis said, referring to photographs that showed Tsipras frolicking on the yacht.
Tsipras, who had defended Polakis to the hilt, letting the provocative minister free to attack party rivals viciously at will, backed him again and said Mitsotakis was guilty of “character assassination” of a man critics said has no character.
Despite photographs showing him on the yacht, Tsipras said it was “gossip,” and tried to turn attention to a list of handouts being dispensed by the government in a frantic bid to win back favor with voters who’ve left him in droves after he whacked them with more harsh measures to satisfy international creditors after swearing he wouldn’t.
Tsipras, reported Kathimerini on the debate, said New Democracy had a “hidden agenda,” with the censure motion without explaining what he thought it was and said the Conservatives were working on a “secret plan” with the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to impose more tough measures on Greeks.
Mitsotakis said Tsipras was panicking over the polls and resorting to the old political strategy of giving out handouts in a transparent bid to show concern for voters buried with big tax hikes, pension cuts and other brutal conditions.
“You tried to change the agenda. To give very little from everything you took in the past four years. But Greeks who pay your taxes … see your panic. They see your effort to fool them again,” Mitsotakis said.
Mitsotakis looked toward a “wide and clear” win in the upcoming European elections, saying it could be “the first step for a bigger political change,” that’s coming.