By Stelios Papadopoulos
On April 3 Panagiotis Baltakos, the General Secretary of the Greek Government, resigned after a leaked video allegedly showed him describing to the far-right Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kasidiaris a government conspiracy to clamp down on the party. The leak came as several Golden Dawn MPs-including Kasidiaris who recorded the video-were stripped of immunity.
Kasidiaris appears to suggest that the persecution of Golden Dawn was politically motivated. The senior official stated in the video that premier Samaras was outraged with ministers of Justice and police for not pressuring investigators to proceed with the prosecution. He also stated that the prosecution was politically motivated because Golden Dawn was taking votes from Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy party and thus empowering the Greek main opposition and leftwing party SYRIZA.
Government efforts to dissociate the Greek premier from Baltakos followed the latter’s resignation, such as Minister of Interior Yannis Michelakis’ statement that the Premier had absolutely no clue as to what his former general secretary was up to. SYRIZA on the other hand suggested that ‘’Baltakos’s hardline views had influenced the premier’’, while the coalition partner PASOK demanded that Mr Samaras take action against any members of the Government that could be deemed as holding extreme views. Furthermore Golden Dawn MP’s such as Ilias Panagiotaros have stated in parliament that there are more videos to come. Samaras on his part said that he will ‘’not allow a criminal organisation to become the regulator of political life’’
Following the notorious video, Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias requested Supreme Court prosecutor Euterpi Koutzamani in a written statement, ‘’to undertake the necessary steps in order to highlight the truth and protect public life from any attempted blackmail.’’ On April 8 Koutzamani issued a written statement to Athens’s court of first instance which stated clearly and unambiguously, ‘’that if anyone makes use of illegally acquired audiovisual material, flagrant procedures will be activated even if the perpetrator is a practicing MP.’’ The Government then does have significant leverage over the actions of Golden Dawn’s lawmakers. In addition Golden Dawn has a history of making similar non-credible threats. For example when authorities investigated them last September following the death of an anti-fascist rapper by a party member, the leader of the party Nikos Michaloliakos stated that he would call early elections in his party’s constituencies which would probably lead to national elections. In the end he did not materialize his threat even though he could do so if he wanted.
The Government’s strategy at the moment is to focus attention on the positive news of Greece’s return to the bond markets which is not unwise, since current and past polls show a consistent majority favouring political stability over early elections. In a recent GPO poll for example 57% of respondents stated that the Government should not resign over the Baltakos case. It is not that the Government is backed by popular legitimacy but the public feels that there is no alternative to the current reforms.
Is the above evidence enough to suggest that early elections are ruled out? Considering the statements of former Prime Minister George Papandreou the answer might be no. After the Baltakos case Papandreou urged PASOK lawmakers to exit the coalition Government. In a conference in Brussels he stated characteristically that ‘’election cycles will always exist and populism isn’t going to prevail constantly if we stand by our principles and can defend what is right. Given the thin parliamentary majority of the Government and a sizable portion of supporters in PASOK’s parliamentary group, the former Premier’s statement is noteworthy. However people close to him stated that he does not intend to bring down the Government while on April 3 he said that ‘’democracy was at stake’’, a fact which called for the unification of all the ‘’democratic and progressive political forces.’’ How can one make sense of these statements?
First of all Papandreou was humiliated back in November 2011 when Samaras refused to allow his participation in the Government following his resignation as Premier, and he was also humiliated when current PASOK president Evangelos Venizelos ‘’took’’ the party his father created. Having then been marginalized Papandreou is seeking a more prominent role within ‘’Olive tree’’-the centre-left electoral alliance which was founded on March 7 to contest the 2014 European elections and which is centred around PASOK.
PASOK cannot contest any elections on its own which explains his aversion for early national elections. This is further corroborated by the fact that on March 31 he voted against an omnibus reform bill without telling his supporters that he would do so, since he knew they would follow him if he did tell them. But what is his exact plan? Judging from recent events such as the transfer of three prominent PASOK MP’s and supporters of Papandreou, to the small social democratic party DIMAR, his plan is to strike a blow at PASOK’s results in this May’s European elections. At that point an issue will be raised about the credibility of PASOK’s leadership. This will be his chance to take back ‘’his’’ party and with the support of DIMAR, gain leverage over Premier Samaras who is desperate for a parliamentary majority.
Stelios Papadopoulos, MSc Political Economy, is a political risk analyst