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Politics

Tempi Train Tragedy Upsets Greece’s Elections Schedule Cycle

ATHENS – Scrambling to deal with the furious aftermath of a head-on train wreck that killed 57 and brought criticism over railway safety lapses, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has delayed setting the date for elections.

The accident happened five days before he had set a Cabinet meeting to make plans that were seen as putting the elections for April 9, a week before Easter, when many people would be at their villages and islands where they vote.

Mitsotakis put a stop to all political activity after the crash in Tempi on the Athens-Thessaloniki line that took the lives of many students on their way back to Greece’s second-largest city and revelers who had finished celebrating the annual carnival.

Speculation is that the elections would now be held in Mid-May as Mitsotakis would need time to dissolve Parliament and have an interim government in place in the meantime and with the likelihood that two ballots would be needed.

In this photo provided by the Greek Prime Minister’s Office, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, second right, accompanied by Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis, left, holding his face, looks the debris of trains after a collision in Tempe, about 376 kilometres (235 miles) north of Athens, near Larissa city, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (Dimitris Papamitsos/Greek Prime Minister’s Office via AP)

That’s because of changes in electoral laws brought by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA that took away a 50-seat bonus in the 300-member Parliament for whomever finishes first.

Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government amended that to have a bonus of from 20 to 50 seats in a second ballot as the country’s fractured political landscape with so many parties running makes it difficult for one to win outright, or without setting up a coalition administration.

With a survey due in days that will show the effect of the tragedy on Mitsotakis’ government, it’s expected that he will take a big hit, especially after media reports almost nothing was done to improve rail safety despite getting 270 million euros ($287.72 million) in aid to fix the lines.

Greece’s young rallied in cities demanding justice for the dead under the slogan, “Text Me When You Arrive,” to indicate the worry parents fear when their children are traveling, and labor unions striking in protest.

Greek press reports suggest that the tragedy will have huge political costs for Mitsotakis and the planned election date of 9 April as it will coincide with the 40-day memorial ceremony for the victims, said EURACTIV.

https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/train-tragedy-blows-off-election-plans-for-greek-conservative-government/

The elections must be held by July when Mitsotakis’ four-year term will end after he routed then-premier and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras in July, 2019 snap elections that were a runaway win for the Conservatives to set up a single-party government.

New Democracy had leads in polls up to 14 percent but that was cut in half after a surveillance scandal and unrelenting sniping from Tsipras and now the rising PASOK-KINAL party that has doubled in support under new leader Nikos Androulakis, a Member of the European Parliament.

Demonstrators release lanterns during a protest in front of the parliament, in Athens, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

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Androulakis’ phone was bugged by the National Intelligence Service EYP, for which Mitsotakis apologized and said he didn’t know about it or would never have allowed the monitoring of his rival’s phone calls.

Following fierce criticism of a previous statement attributing the tragedy “mainly to a human error,” Mitsotakis told the families of the victims that he was sorry, doing it on Facebook.

“I apologize personally but also in the name of all those who have governed the country for years because, indeed, in the Greece in 2023, it is impossible for two trains to move in opposite directions on the same line, and no one has noticed,” he said of the catastrophe.

Rival parties said it was scripted and designed to try to contain political fallout and that he had waited five days after the tragedy to do it. The Journalists Union of Athens Daily newspapers also apologized for failing to cover reports of a lapse of train safety raised by rail workers union officials.

“The tragedy highlights, in a most painful way this time, the structural problems that plague the Greek media,” the association said, with many outlets having political agendas and ties and slanting news for their favorites or ignoring stories that are critical of who they support.

In a statement, SYRIZA said the 59-year-old stationmaster who was on the post at the Larissa stop for only four days, and who has been charged, was beyond the legal age to take the position when hired.

“The only thing left for the government to answer to the Greek people is which political-governmental factor pushed and imposed the illegal hiring of the stationmaster,” the Leftists said.

The tragedy also brought the immediate resignation of then-Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis who only a couple of weeks earlier had guaranteed rail safety, the news site said.

Replying to a question by the opposition about risks on the rails he said that, “It’s a shame that you’re raising safety issues and I’d like you to retract immediately (…) we ensure safety.” He’s still on Mitsotakis’ list of candidates to be in Parliament in the election.

Greek media published documents submitted by the train workers’ association to the Hellenic Railways Organisation (OSE) months before the tragedy, warning about the safety gaps and the risk of an accident even happening.

OSE replied with a legal notice emphasising that the accusations were “groundless,” also dismissing worries about train safety but media reports since have pointed to years of neglect and negligence by all governments.

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