Antonis Samaras, leader of Greece's New Democracy party which secured the most number of seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections, was sworn in as the country's new Prime Minister on Wednesday, ending weeks of political uncertainty in the EU member-nation.
Samaras, the 61-year-old U.S. educated economist, was sworn in at a brief ceremony held at the presidential palace in Athens, making him Greece's fourth Prime Minister in eight months. The development came after his New Democracy party managed to forge a coalition with the socialist PASOK and the smaller Democratic Left.
Despite the developments, outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zanias will represent Greece at a meeting of Eurozone Finance Ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday. Details of the new Cabinet is expected to emerge by then. National Bank Chairman Vassilis Rapanos is likely to replace Zanias as Finance Minister in the new Cabinet.
After the swearing-in, Samaras appealed the Greek people for "patriotism and strong national unity and trust, [so] that with the help of God, we'll do whatever we can for the people to come out of this crisis." He also expressed hopes that his new government "will be able to give hope to our people."
Samaras had made it clear earlier that his party wanted Greece to remain in the Eurozone and that the new government would honor its obligations to its lenders. But he indicated that "some necessary amendments" had to be made to the stringent bailout agreement "in order to relieve the people of crippling unemployment and huge hardships."
Earlier on Wednesday, PASOK party leader Evangelos Venizelos said all the three parties in the new coalition had collectively "taken on the burden of responsibility to renegotiate the bailout agreement and [the job] of exiting Greece from the crisis."
Separately, Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis told reporters that his party decided by a large majority to give a vote of confidence, not a vote of tolerance, in the new government." Nevertheless, he pledged not to "withdraw our support or bring down the government" in an apparent attempt to send out a message of political stability that has long been evading the debt-ridden country.
The conservative pro-bailout New Democracy party had made a remarkable comeback in Sunday's polls winning 29.7 percent of the votes, as against 18.9 percent it received in the election held six weeks ago. Being the largest party made it eligible for 50 extra seats, which raised its total strength in the House to 129 seats.
The radical leftist Syriza, which opposes the austerity measures for securing a bailout, also improved its position with 26.9 percent votes (71 seats) to finish second in the polls. The PASOK party, which had partnered New Democracy in the coalition government since last November, came third with 12.6 percent, or 33 seats. The Democratic Left Party came in sixth in the polls, winning 17 seats.
Although the New Democracy-PASOK alliance has a total of 162 seats in the 300-member Parliament, enough for a slim but comfortable majority, Samaras had earlier called for a broader four-party coalition involving the Syriza and the Democratic Left Party as well. However, Syriza leader Alexis Tspiras rejected the idea, and made it clear that his party prefers to sit in the Opposition, and vowed to continue its campaign against the bailout deal.
Nevertheless, the three-party conservative-socialist-leftist coalition gives the new government a strong parliamentary majority of 179 seats, which will be crucial for its proper functioning. Moreover, Greece needed to have a new government in place for getting the next installment of its bailout loan.
Greece had agreed in March to implement further austerity programs demanded in exchange for a joint EUR 130 billion bailout from the EU, the ECB and the IMF. In addition, the country had earlier availed a joint EU-IMF 110-billion-euro rescue loan in May 2010, of which several tranches have been handed out to Athens.
In return for these two loans, Greece had agreed to implement painful and hugely unpopular austerity measures, including spending cut, slashing of public sector jobs, pension reforms, privatization of loss-making state-owned companies as well as increasing existing taxes and imposing new ones.
Greece risked exiting the Eurozone if an anti-bailout government emerged from the elections. Moreover, Eurozone nations have already warned that Greece would get further disbursements of the bailout loan only if it manages to put a stable government in place and continues to implement austerity measures agreed under the bailout deal. The new Greek government is expected to ease the country's financial crisis and strengthen its shaky position in the Eurozone.
by RTT Staff Writer
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