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Greece’s new government off to a chaotic start

The new greek Finance Minister, Yannis Stournaras, a 55-year-old former banker and economics professor. (AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI)

ATHENS: Greece’s newly elected government has got off to a chaotic start overshadowed by health troubles, as money to pay salaries and pensions runs down and just days to go before a key European Union summit.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who narrowly won a June 17 general election with a promise to keep Greece in the euro, is recovering at home until next week following an eye operation and won’t be able to attend the summit.

His original nominee for finance minister – bank chief Vassilis Rapanos – added to uncertainty by turning down the post Monday due to poor health and amid what Greek newspapers said were signs of infighting over Cabinet appointments.

The new nominee is Yannis Stournaras, a 55-year-old economics professor who has proposed using state property as collateral for new bonds to raise more than 100 billion euros ($125 billion) and is known for his candor.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Ant1 television that Greece would offer “an initial outline of its positions” on revising the hugely unpopular austerity conditions of an EU-IMF bailout deal that is critical for the economy.

The spokesman said Samaras would lead meaningful negotiations on the bailout during a tour of European capitals after he makes a full recovery, with analysts expecting a showdown with European leaders reluctant to make concessions.

“We hope it will be a positive summit, not only for Greece but also for the rest of the European south and the entire world,” President Carolos Papoulias, who is taking Samaras’ place at the EU meeting, said Tuesday.

The government – an unlikely coalition led by Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party with socialists and moderate leftists as junior partners – has not even been officially confirmed with a vote of confidence in parliament.

The vote is now expected to be held Monday next week at the earliest.

“People are waiting for Samaras to move quickly and seriously, hopefully next week. We have a very short period to prove ourselves. Two weeks, no more,” said Kostas Panagopoulos, chief executive of the Alco polling agency in Athens.

Manolis Alexakis, an assistant professor in political sociology at the University of Crete, said he was pessimistic about the new government’s chances because of rivalries within the coalition.

“They haven’t really started yet,” said Alexakis. “This kind of government cannot be successful because of its ingredients. The other coalition partners will try to capitalize on any losses or failures by the government.”

The Pasok and Democratic Left parties have offered to support the coalition in parliament but have not included any of their lawmakers in the lineup.

The liberal Kathimerini daily also highlighted the inherent weakness of the coalition in an editorial saying the government was already “in danger.”

“These are historic times and mistakes and improvisation are unacceptable,” it said, adding that the bailout revision plan was “unrealistic.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2012, on page 11.

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