Samaras vows to turn around Greek economy
ATHENS GREECE’s likely next leader after May 6 elections, conservative Antonis Samaras, is a hawkish exforeign minister who plans to reboot the economy with tax cuts and amend an EUIMF recovery plan.
Samaras, who turns 61 later in May, has often criticised the austerity reforms mandated by the European Union and International Monetary Fund as too focused on cuts, and not enough on growth.
Having brought down a government two decades ago over a diplomatic spat with neighbouring Macedonia, he has not shied in recent months from antagonising Brussels to get his views heard.
“We haven’t stopped telling our creditors that to achieve (fiscal) targets we must change some things in the programme... to bring recovery sooner,” he told supporters of the New Democracy party last month.
The conservatives want to cut top income tax thresholds, sales tax and fuel tax and reduce employers’ social contributions to help businesses survive a fiveyear recession that has left over a million jobless.
A US-educated economist, Samaras also intends to take a stronger stance on illegal immigration by toughening residency and naturalisation requirements that had been relaxed by the previous socialist administration.
“Illegal migration has turned into an unarmed invasion,” he said in a speech on security priorities on Thursday. “This has to stop.” Samaras is a seasoned survivor who returned to lead New Democracy after a bitter parting in 1993, when most analysts thought his political career was over.
Similarly, his party has leap-frogged over its socialist sworn rivals with a lead of between four and nine percent according to latest polls, less than three years after a humiliating defeat in the 2009 legislative elections.
But whether the conservatives will win enough votes for a comfortable government majority is unclear, political analysts have warned.
The party lost support after joining a coalition government with the socialist Pasok party in November to finalise a new eurozone bailout and a bond rollover with private creditors to ease Greece’s crushing debt repayments.
Legislative elections were originally to be held in 2013.
New Democracy and Pasok have alternated in power since the restoration of Greek democracy in 1974 after a seven-year army dictatorship.
The conservatives are credited with ushering Greece into the European Economic Community, precursor of the European Union.
But for the past two years, the party has found itself in the unfamiliar position of jousting with the EU and IMF over their insistence on a tough austerity recipe to overhaul the Greek economy, trim soaring deficits and reduce a debt of more than 350 billion euros ($461 billion).
The previous socialist government had accused the conservatives of fiscal profligacy between 2004 and 2009, and of falsifying statistics on the economy.