ATHENS – Ahead of the critical May 26 elections for the European Parliament and Greek municipalities that are expected to be a harbinger for the general elections later this year, the country’s two major political leaders are in full battle regalia.
Trailing badly in polls, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is dishing out handouts and trying to roll back austerity measures he agreed with the country’s creditors while reeling from reports his government covered up the death toll from 2018 wildfires and with a key minister attacking a wheelchair bound candidate in the EU elections for the Conservatives.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, already making sounds about what his government would look like as he expects to win the general elections, said Tsipras should quit if SYRIZA takes a beating in the elections.
Mitsotakis also is attacking Tsipras over unrelenting violence and lawlessness by anarchists running amok in Greece’s capital although SYRIZA offices were also a target of a gang of hooded youths who tossed Molotov Cocktails and battled riot police.
The two political leaders went at each other in a debate in Parliament over a censure motion New Democracy brought against Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis for claiming Stelios Kymbouropoulos, who has a medical degree with honors despite a severe disability, of using affirmative action laws to get a public sector job and then criticizing those laws.
Tsipras turned that into a vote of confidence he knew he would win thanks to the vote of a handful of former rivals and alleged Independents who swore allegiance to him, giving his government a slight majority in Parliament where it holds only 145 of 300 seats.
He’s also taken credit for what he said is a burgeoning recovery from a more than nine-year-long economic crisis without noting that if so, it’s largely because he reneged on anti-austerity promises to get a third bailout in 2015, for 86 billion euros ($96.71 billion.)
SYRIZA’s goal, said Kathimerini, is to limit New Democracy’s expected margin of victory in the European elections to no more than 5 percent so that the Leftists are still in the game and to prevent a rout in the general elections in October or calling a snap poll sooner.
The Tsipras handouts though are drawing intense scrutiny from the country’s lenders, the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) who worry it will cut into a required primary surplus and repeat a pattern of Greek governments going on wild spending and hiring sprees to buy votes.
Three rescue packages of 326 billion euros ($366.23 billion) ended Aug. 20, 2018 but the Troika’s envoys were in Athens to check whether the government is backtracking on reforms and austerity with reviews expected to go on for years.
Mitsotakis said Tsipras should resign if SYRIZA gets whipped in the EU and Greek elections with surveys showing some key Leftist officials are reeling and that key posts could go to the Conservatives as well.
While the general elections for Greece don’t have to be held until October, Tsipras said he doesn’t believe the surveys and is predicting wins across the board despite plummeting in popularity after repeatedly reneging for four years on anti-austerity promises.
In a press conference carried live on most Greek TV channels, Mitsotakis criticized Tsipras for promising an extra month’s pay to pensioners ahead of the election but said New Democracy would support a one-off “allowance,” to help them.
Mitsotakis challenged Tsipras to accept his party’s proposal not to lower the tax-free income bracket as the Premier agreed with the country’s international creditors, adding that New Democracy would not impose the tax on previously exempt people and families.