Friday 23 March 2018

Greek Prime Minister offers to reopen state broadcaster to defuse political crisis

Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras
Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras

Lefteris Papadimas and Harry Papachristou

GREECE'S prime minister has offered to reopen a pared-down version of the state broadcaster under temporary management and reshuffle the cabinet, a government official said, to try to defuse a political crisis and avoid a snap election.

ERT's abrupt closure last week in the name of austerity to please EU and IMF lenders triggered a deep rift in the ruling coalition, throwing the debt-choked nation back into turmoil just as faint hopes of a recovery had begun to sprout.


Prime Minister Antonis Samaras made the offer to revive the broadcaster during talks with his coalition - allowing the two junior parties, the Socialist PASOK and Democratic Left, to pick the deputy minister who will oversee it in a transitional form.


"It's a last-ditch move by the prime minister to reach a compromise and avoid elections," the official said.


The transitional broadcaster would then pave the way for the smaller, cheaper public broadcaster that Samaras had initially promised would replace ERT.


The official said Samaras also offered to reshuffle his cabinet at the end of June and update the coalition agreement with his allies to try to improve cooperation between the parties.


Exactly a year after a parliamentary election brought Samaras and his two leftist allies to power, the parties have fed fears of a hugely disruptive snap poll by refusing to compromise over an entity widely unloved until its shock overnight closure.


"It's clear that over the last days any semblance of logic in dealing with this issue has been lost," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO pollsters.


"The most absurd thing is that we are talking about a possible destruction of the country over ERT."





Aware his allies stand to lose heavily in any election, the conservative Samaras had refused in a flurry of speeches to turn the "sinful" ERT back on, vowing to fight to modernise a country he says had become a "Jurassic Park" of inefficiency and corruption.


His PASOK and Democratic Left partners, who risk humiliation and the loss of any future say in the coalition, have previously rejected Samaras's offer of a limited restart of broadcasts.


"It's impossible to say how far they will go," said Panagopoulos. "Normally, you would expect they would not be willing to throw everything up in the air over this decision. Greece has gone back to where it was a year ago in terms of political instability over ERT."


He estimated a 30 percent risk of elections over the summer, despite all three parties insisting there will be no early poll.


Ratings agency Moody's said the fraying political consensus on ERT's closure and slippage on a troubled privatisation programme after Athens failed to sell off state natural gas firm DEPA were negative for Greece's lowly C credit rating.


"Without a compromise among coalition partners, the risk of new elections will increase," the agency said.


A senior euro zone official voiced concern that Greece was hurtling back to its days of crisis and drama, given the slow pace of public sector reforms and privatisations.


"It's kind of deja vu with Greece," the official said.


Opinion polls over the weekend showed a majority of Greeks opposed the shutdown, due rather to its abruptness - screens went black a few hours after the announcement, cutting off newscasters mid-sentence - than to the decision itself.


Journalists have gone on strike, thousands have rallied in protest outside ERT's headquarters and the broadcaster's 2,600 staff have continued to broadcast over the Internet in defiance of management orders to pack up and leave.


In Syntagma square outside parliament, thousands gathered to listen to radical left opposition leader Alexis Tsipras protest against the ERT shutdown and attack Samaras as a "great Napoleon of bailouts".


"But he didn't see, nor did he predict, the Waterloo that ERT workers and the great majority of people prepared for him," Tsipras told crowds of flag-waving supporters.



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