ATHENS – Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ ruling New Democracy Conservatives, already tattered by two of its lawmakers under investigations, now has been split asunder over the race for Athens Mayor after he backed a former minister over another of his party’s Members of Parliament – who held the office before and now will challenge the Premier’s candidate.
Samaras anoited Aris Spiliotopoulos, 47, a former minister of both tourism and education and religious affairs, over Nikitas Kaklamanis, 67, who was mayor of the capital city from 2007-10 and was widely seen in the party as a do-nothing disaster who lost to New York-born George Kaminis, who is going to run again as well as an Independent.
Greek media reported the rift as an embarrassment for New Democracy, which is in an uneasy coalition with the PASOK Socialists and together have only a three-vote majority in the 300-member Parliament, leaving the Premier with no wiggle room to eject Kaklamanis or force him to step aside for Spiliotopoulos.
Indeed, Samaras instead tried to spin and play down the significance of Kaklamanis’ defiance and opposing another member of the party who has the Prime Minister’s backing. “Whoever stands, stands,” Samaras told reporters in Parliament, uncharacteristically declining to make any moves on Kaklamanis.
Kaklamanis then would be in the position of being both a member of New Democracy and a separate political group cutting into the base of the party and Spiliotopoulos, draining away votes. Kaklamanis said, “My love for Athens was not opportunist. For me it was, is and will always be Athens First.”
Political analysts immediately began to speculate that with effectively two New Democracy candidates running against each other, that the candidate from the ultra far-right Golden Dawn, Ilias Kasidiaris, one of the party hierarchy arrested on charges of running a criminal gang, could get a boost if the Conservatives vote is split.
Samaras’ coalition is being pressed by international lenders to speed the pace of reforms and close a 2.4 billion-euro hole in the 2014 budget and he would be hard-pressed to reprimand or eject Kaklamanis, who said he would soon announce his platform.
Spiliotopoulos said he would be rising to “the invitation/challenge for a more beautiful Athens, an Athens whose residents and visitors will feel safety, an Athens capable of fueling the creative forces of us all. For an Athens that we love and want to earn the place that it deserves.”
Sources told the Athens News Agency that the Prime Minister’s office has already commissioned an opinion poll measuring Spiliotopoulos’ popularity with those of the other candidates that have announced their intention to run so far.
These include Gavriil Sakellaridis, 33, a little-known economist for main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), Nikos Sofianos from the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Kasidiaris, a firebrand who is Golden Dawn’s point person to stir it voters and supporters at rallies.
There were reports that Samaras recruited Spiliotopoulos, who had shown no interest in the Mayoral position, after Tourism Minister Olga Kefaloyianni, who has succeeded in helping create a record number of visitors to help offset a crushing economic crisis turned him down
New Democracy also has to worry that Kaminis, who has won praise for running the city on a shoestring budget cut as part of austerity measures, will cut into Spiliotopoulos’ vote at the same time party members will have Kaklamanis to consider, and what effect all this has on the party now.
Samaras also has to deal with the upcoming municipal and European Parliament elections in May as polls show SYRIZA beginning to pull away from the Conservatives as the Premier continues to back harsh austerity measures demanded by international lenders.
New Democracy has not announced all its candidates for the May 18 and 25 local elections as friction has grown in the party. Central Macedonia Governor Apostolos Tzitzicostas defied his party, which wanted him to challenge Yiannis Boutaris for the mayorship of Thessaloniki, and said he will run again for his current post.
New Democracy then turned to nominating Deputy Culture Minister for Sports Yiannis Ioannidis as their candidate in Central Macedonia. It’s common in Greece for political parties to play a kind of musical chairs and move prominent members from position to position and ministry to ministry even if they have no qualifications for the jobs.