Work hard and say less, Greek PM tells new unpaid cabinet


This government will be one of the cheapest and short-lived in Greek history

GREECE’S NEWLY appointed prime minister urged his even newer cabinet of unelected ministers to “work hard and say less”, reminding them that the caretaker administration’s main goal is to “guide the country to a safe harbour” at repeat elections on June 17th.

Panagiotis Pikrammenos also told his cabinet of 16 ministers that they could not expect payment for their month’s work given the troubled state of the country’s finances. But as a member of the Twitterati joked, perhaps the real reason for the lack of paychecks was that the prime minister couldn’t agree on what currency to write them in.

Money and banks are a sensitive topic in Athens, especially after the foreign media misinterpreted a warning by the president to party leaders during the recent coalition negotiations about the amount Greeks had withdrawn from banks as a result of the political instability.

Abroad it was reported that savers had taken out almost €700 million in one day. What the president actually said was that they had taken out that amount since the May 6th election. The difference is no small change and the damage to the country’s battered credibility was done.

If the government proves to be one of the cheapest Greece has had, the new parliamentary term is certainly going to be one of the shortest. Its 300 MPs were sworn in yesterday, and the president is expected to dissolve the assembly by tomorrow at the latest, when he formally calls fresh elections.

Marching in to the parliamentary chamber in near-military formation behind their pugnacious “Führer”, Nikos Michaloliakos, were the 21 deputies of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. The storm-troopers, mostly middle-aged, lapped up the attention.

“See how they’re looking at you as if you’re from another planet,” a supporter whispered to a skinhead MP. “Don’t worry. We’re used to it,” he smiled back.

Commentators had expected some antics from the Golden Dawnites, but in the event they were uncharacteristically sedate – they decided to remain seated when the assembly’s three Muslim members, representing the Turkish-speaking minority from the northwest, were sworn in.

The Orthodox Christian swearing-in ceremony, performed by the archbishop of Athens and a bevy of bearded bishops, was the main order of business. As he chanted and dispensed holy water with a bunch of fresh basil, some of his clerical colleagues glanced disapprovingly over to the left of the chamber, where fewer deputies could be seen blessing themselves than on the right.

Demonstrating that they are members of an orthodox, not Orthodox, Marxist Leninist outfit, most of the Communist Party MPs declined to utter the religious oath of office. One broke ranks.

For those of the 300 MPs who trekked up to Athens from the provinces for the big day, it was hardly worth the effort. An estimated 30 per cent might lose their seats on June 17th. Until then, they can enjoy all the parliamentary perks, such as a gym and hairdressing salon.

Unconfirmed reports suggested they might be popular with the boys of Golden Dawn: to beef up muscles and, for the skinheads, to shine up shaven skulls.



ATHENS – Greek voters are returning to the establishment parties that negotiated its bailout, a poll showed yesterday, offering potential salvation for European leaders who say a snap Greek election next month will decide whether it must quit the euro.

The poll, the first conducted since talks to form a government collapsed and a new election was called for June 17th, showed the conservative New Democracy party in first place, several points ahead of the radical left Syriza, which has pledged to tear up the bailout.

The prospect that Syriza would win the election has sent the euro and markets across the continent plummeting this week.

The poll predicted New Democracy would win 26.1 per cent of the vote compared to 23.7 per cent for Syriza. Crucially, it showed that along with the Socialist Pasok party, New Democracy would have enough seats to form a pro-bailout government, which it failed to win in an election on May 6th, forcing a new vote and prompting a political crisis that has put the future of the euro in doubt.

Polls last week had shown Syriza well in front, with anti-bailout voters rallying behind its charismatic 37-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras. First place comes with a bonus of 50 extra seats in the 300-seat parliament, so even a tiny edge would be pivotal in determining who forms the next government.

The election is still a month away, and Greek voters have been fickle. Experts warned against drawing any strong conclusions from a single poll. Nevertheless, a trend that had shown Syriza surging ahead appears to have turned. “It seems people vented their anger in the election and then they got scared. They disliked that there was no government and they got worried about a possible exit from the euro,” political analyst John Loulis said of the surprise poll result.

“Still, voters are far from enthusiastic with New Democracy. Things are still volatile. The outcome of the elections will depend on who will make the fewest mistakes.”

Earlier yesterday Tsipras predicted his party would sweep next month’s election and refused to give up his demand for an end to “barbaric” austerity policies he said were bankrupting the nation.

– (Reuters)