SYRIZA “Orgy” of Last-Minute Benefits Pushing Through Parliament

FILE - Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers his speech during a rally by the governing Syriza party in Athens, Friday, May 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – Far behind in polls with July 7 snap elections looming, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA – apparently anticipating a big loss – is using an essentially empty Parliament to pass a flurry of legislation aimed at benefiting the party, friends, families and backers.

The poll-leading major opposition New Democracy said that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, sensing these may be his last days in office, has authorized an “orgy” of last-minute partisan favors while he still can.

While Tsipras called the snap polls, he still hasn’t resigned nor requested Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos to dissolve the government as required. Instead, Parliament Speaker Niks Voutsis, from SYRIZA, said the next government won’t take office until July 10, which would give Tsipras four more days in power even if he loses the elections.

SYRIZA is using the time, said New Democracy – which, along with all other parties except the essentially defunct To Potami which isn’t running again – has boycotted Parliament sessions, saying they aren’t legitimate and are being used for big parting handouts.

Rival parties and some media have charged, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, that the government is paying off the children, former spouses, party officials and those who backed Tsipras the last 4 ½ years.

Among the dozens of new hirings and transfers, according to media reports, is the daughter of Parliament’s General Secretary, who up until recently was a contract employee in the office of the Interior Minister, revealed on June 1 on the dikaiologitika news  site.

That was five days after SYRIZA candidates took a whipping in May 26 elections for Greek municipalities and the European Parliament and polls showing New Democracy leading by 9 points for the general elections.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

Other transfers, to better-paid and more prominent positions, include Voutsis’ ex-wife, the daughter of SYRIZA MP and Parliament Vice-President Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the office staff head of one-time deputy education minister Costas Zouraris – who jumped SYRIZA’s former coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL) to join the government – a special adviser in Energy Minister Giorgos Stathakis’ office and the Director for Parliament’s Statement of Means and Assets Committee to make sure they have jobs if New Democracy comes in and cleans out Parliament positions.

The Parliament also okayed a two-year contract with a journalist who in the past served in former tourism minister Elena Kountoura’s press office – she left ANEL as well – and the permanent hiring of a reporter with the newspaper Avgi, affiliated with SYRIZA.

But after falling in line for more than four years to back Tsipras, some Members of Parliament are said to be upset they are not being allowed to offer amendments to legislation ahead of the July 7 snap elections.

With Parliament empty except for SYRIZA lawmakers and the remaining five from To Potami which isn’t running, the government is free to do what it wants although Tsipras, while handing out rewards, reportedly is worried what the effect will be with voters.

He’s far behind New Democracy, which he unseated in January, 2015 before falling out of favor for constantly reneging on anti-austerity promises and vows to help workers, pensioners and the poor he buried with more tough measures.

Alternate Environment Minister Sokratis Famellos revealed that the Cabinet had decided to bar MPs’ proposed amendments, during a Parliament session on June 5, provoking complaints from several SYRIZA lawmakers, including Makis Balaouras, who condemned the intervention as “absurd,” said Kathimerini.

Famellos admitted Tsipras’ ministers barred proposed changes due to the potential political cost for SYRIZA ahead of snap polls. “Unfortunately, a section of the political opposition is leveling ill-intentioned criticism with the sole goal of influencing voters,” he said.

Opposition parties are boycotting Parliament sessions to protest the last-minute flurry of legislation they said is Tsipras’ parting shot to benefit his party and its policies in case he takes a drubbing in the elections.

ILLEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the House has effectively been “delegitimized” by the process, leaving the floor open for Tsipras to anything he wants but backing off with voter fury still fresh.

Tsipras wanted New Democracy to support his intention to roll back planned new taxes on previously exempt low-income groups he agreed to impose under pressure from the country’s European creditors.

But Mitsotakis said Tsipras had refused to back the same idea that New Democracy had brought forth earlier before now trying to renege on the lenders as well, after having given a flurry of pension bonuses and tax cuts that didn’t help him at the polls.

SYRIZA, with the departure of ANEL which opposed a deal Tsipras made to give away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia to a newly-named North Macedonia, has been able to control Parliament as a minority government only with the votes of some former rivals and alleged Independents, some of whom were also rewarded.

With no opposition in Parliament, SYRIZA is going ahead with a plan to hire 10,500 more school teachers over the next two years after not doing it for four years, timing the move just before elections with critics saying Tsipras is trying to buy votes openly.

The government also wants to extend temporary contracts of municipal sanitation workers in what its rival said was another attempt to gain votes in return for jobs, while the Greek Police (ELAS) hierarchy is being accused by its own officers of trying to transfer staff between departments in case SYRIZA takes a beating.

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