Thursday, 3 September 2009

Greece heads for elections

The Greek prime minister has declared a general election, just days after his administration came under severe criticism for its management of a massive forest fire that burned 50,000 acres of forest land and threatened homes in Athens.

Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis' decision announced late on Wednesday did not come as much of a surprise. The government's reputation has been ebbing almost since it was elected to a second four-year term just two years ago. A series of economic scandals last year followed by the economic crisis took their toll, but also weighing heavily against the conservative New Democracy party has been its environmental record.

Forest fires in 2007 destroyed record acreage; both then and again last month, they denuded the smoggy capital of its main sources of oxygen. The socialist opposition had vowed to trigger elections next March, when New Democracy would need bipartisan support to re-elect the president. so Karamanlis decided that despite trailing in the polls, he will move the fight up to a month from now.

The reasons Karmanlis himself gives are sound. The country cannot flail in an electoral frenzy between now and March if economic measures are to be taken that set the foundation for a long-term recovery two years from now. He cited three main areas: Shrinking government (which is responsible for two thirds of Greece's national debt), tightening up tax collection and restructuring the economy in key areas.

Karamanlis did not go into details, saying he will fill in the specifics at the Thessaloniki International Fair on Saturday September 5. The devil is clearly in those details. Shrinking government is something no government has taken on wholesale; tax evasion is what keeps many employers in business; and restructuring the economy must include a painful pruning of the social security system socialist and conservative governments shied away from in 1992, 2001 and 2008.

But the race is clearly on; Papandreou is expected to answer with an electoral policy platform on Thursday September 3, meaning that his appearance at the TIF, like that of Karamanlis, will be an official campaign launch.

To hear the related NPR report, go to

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