ATHENS – Three weeks after removing from the upcoming elections ballot a provocative former minister for threatening journalists and verbally attacking judges, major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tspiras put him back on again.
Pavlos Polakis, a surgeon who had been a heavy-smoking deputy health minister who violated smoking laws in public – and the ministry – represents a key district on Crete for SYRIZA and was allowed back after he apologized.
That was directed to Tsipras, not to the targets of his social media assault after Tsipras said he wouldn’t tolerate it but did as he tries to close the gap against the ruling New Democracy.
Polakis’ rant was the latest in a long line of provocations for someone who is seen as kind of a pit bull attack dog for Tsipras who nevertheless cut him loose before bringing him back.
At the time, Tsipras said he couldn’t condone what Polakis said as the comments drew a barrage of criticism that even Polakis had gone too far and the former Premier then agreed before now changing his mind.
Polakis was stripped as Shadow Minister for Transparency after naming the judges in the case of former minister Nikos Pappas, who was given a 2-year suspended sentence after being convicted of trying to steer a TV license to a businessman to set up a station that would be sympathetic to SYRIZA when it was in power.
That led Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to snap about SYRIZA that, “Let them sort out their internal affairs, let them reflect on who are the ones who elevated ‘Polakism’ to the party’s central line. And they must let us do our job, let us continue to talk about the future, avoid toxicity, and look at the real problems of society with respect and understanding, and I ask all our cadres to do this.”
Polakis had also bitterly complained on social media that a friend of his wasn’t going to be on the ballot with him, seen as a challenge to Tsipras who has repeatedly been reluctant to confront the former minister.
But Polakis said his assault against journalists was “misinterpreted” and that he wanted to point to what he said was the “manipulation of information by the Mitsotakis regime” as he called the ruling conservative government.
Polakis, in his letter, said he never intended to challenge the leadership of Tspiras who has rebranded SYRIZA from Radical to Progressive after taking a beating from Mitsotakis in July, 2019 snap elections.
Polakis ripped some journalists he doesn’t like and accused “willing (writers) of the systemic media” of spreading a lie while his party said it’s the only one telling the truth about Greece’s problems.
“The letter by comrade Polakis … forces us to reevaluate our original intentions, because it is, indeed, a letter of brave self-criticism,” Tsipras responded while SYRIZA said “the body took into account the letter made public by Pavlos Polakis, in which he explains his recent (social media) posts, recognizes mistakes and inappropriate actions and reaffirms his unconditional respect for the collective decisions taken by SYRIZA-Progressive Coalition.”
The change of heart by Tsipras came in the midst of an ongoing firestorm facing Mitsotakis after a head-on collision on a rail line from Athens to Thessaloniki killed 57 people and revealed apparent negligence.
That has seen a drop in popularity for both parties but the gap narrowed to only 2.9 percent in favor of New Democracy and with a recent survey showing a critical 17.4 percent of voters undecided, the key swing vote being sought.
After welcomed and absolved of any wrongdoing, a triumphant Polakis posted an old photo of him with Mitsotakis and said: “Together for the great victory and more determined than ever. For the country’s relief. For Justice everywhere.” adding in two postscripts: “As if we would do their bidding” and “Crete shows the way.”
New Democracy and the third party in Parliament, the PASOK-KINAL center-left that Tsipras is trying to bring into SYRIZA’s fold both ripped Tsipras for bringing back the firebrand Polakis.
New Democracy said it was “grotesque” and that Tsipras made “one of his famous flip-flops,” noting that Polakis “did not take back his appalling posts about journalists and judges.”
“This is the most resounding rebuttal against those who were advertising a supposed turn to moderation by Mr. Tsipras … Mr. Polakis is, and remains, Mr. Tsipras’ alter ego,” it said.
But there was no mention of Mitsotakis keeping on his ballot of Parliament candidates the former transport minister Kostas Karamanlis, who resigned after the train tragedy and could be a target of a coming investigation.
“Polakis’ return means a tolerance for the attacks he launched 20 days ago against journalists and judges,” PASOK said in a statement, adding that the “so-called moderate turn by Syriza that has ended ingloriously.”