International Herald Tribune
No Interim Government as
Greek Disarray Goes On
By SUZANNE DALEY and NIKI
ATHENS — Prime Minister George
A. Papandreou went on national television on Wednesday evening to
announce that a new interim government had been formed.
But he did not name his
successor, and in the hours that followed, it became clear that
political disarray had set in once more. Mr. Papandreou’s resignation
was not announced, nor was the interim government named. By early
evening, the president’s office said that there would be no
announcement before Thursday.
Television provided glimpses
of some of the drama. A furious Giorgos Karatzaferis, the leader of the
small far-right party Laos, stormed out the presidential office building
shortly after Mr. Papandreou’s speech. He told waiting reporters that
he had been summoned to a meeting with Mr. Papandreou; the president;
and the leader of the opposition party New Democracy, Antonis Samaras,
but found himself sitting in a hall alone. Apparently, the other men
were too busy arguing to meet with him.
Mr. Karatzaferis, one of the
few politicians willing to risk the potential damage from supporting a
new power-sharing government that must take on a host of unpopular tasks,
said political games were being played. "This is unacceptable,"
he huffed before leaving.
After months of domestic
protests and building pressure from the European Union, Mr. Papandreou
agreed Sunday to step down once political negotiators had established a
new unity government. But the talks have dragged on since, troubled by
nearly constant reverses and overshadowed by political maneuvering in
advance of new elections.
The problem this evening was
the choice that Mr. Papandreou and the leader of the opposition New
Democracy Party had apparently made. Before Mr. Papandreou’s speech,
Greek news reports claimed he was about to announce he was handing the
reins to Filippos Petsalnikos, the speaker of Parliament and a stalwart
of Mr. Papandreou’s Socialist party, Pasok.
But the choice caused
consternation — some said a mini-revolt — among the more
reform-minded, mostly younger members of both parties. Mr. Petsalnikos
has been in Parliament for more than two decades and has held a number
of ministerial posts, largely without distinction.
Some Pasok members appeared
to push publicly for another candidate, Lucas Papademos, a respected
economist and former vice president of the European Central Bank who is
seen as being a dynamic and technically able choice.
But his strength makes him a
potential rival for those who have aspirations in the next elections,
analysts said. In addition, Mr. Papademos had set several conditions for
taking the job, including a six-month term and the ability to choose his
own finance minister, which had troubled some members of both parties.
In fact, Mr. Papademos was acting to remove one of the most powerful
members of Pasok, the current finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, who
is likely to run for prime minister in the next elections.
Nonetheless, many of the
younger politicians are eager for someone who will make quick progress
in getting the country’s financial house in order. One prominent
member of Pasok, Anna Diamantopoulou, the minister of education, issued
a letter on Wednesday that was widely interpreted as public support for
Mr. Papademos, the economist.
"The country needs a
prime minister of high status and acceptance, both inside and out of the
country, with deep knowledge of financial affairs," she wrote.
With the announcement of a
new prime minister and interim government on hold, Wednesday evening
brought a new round of squabbling. Members of Pasok accused New
Democracy of standing in the way of Mr. Papademos’s selection, which
New Democracy denied.
But all reports suggested
that Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Samaras were once again negotiating over who
would be the prime minister. In the late evening, some news outlets
began reporting that Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Samaras had agreed on Mr.
Mr. Papandreou’s televised
address served as a kind of valedictory speech, summing up moves in
recent years to stabilize and help the country, expressing the country’s
continued commitment to the European bailout plan and urging political
parties to transcend their differences.
Ahead of the meeting with the
president, Karolos Papoulias, who was supposed to submit his resignation,
Mr. Papandreou said the country’s new government would signal the
"beginning of a new political mentality, a new political
"Today, we leave aside
our differences," he said, heralding "a common effort to
ensure the country moves forward, not only to remain part of the euro
zone but also to emerge from the crisis."
He said the interim
government would make the necessary efforts to "justify the
sacrifices made by the Greek people over the past two years,"
referring to a raft of wage and pension cuts as well as hefty tax
increases. The chief goals would be to secure crucial rescue financing
for the country and continue talks with foreign creditors, he said.
Some interpreted the tone of
his speech as signaling his departure not only from Greek politics but
also from the country itself.
"I never put my position
above the national good," he said. "For me, Greece is
above everything. Wherever I go, I will carry the Greek flag in my heart."
He added that he would do everything he could to support the new prime
minister and the new government.