Party leaders brace for debate

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With campaigning gathering pace and political rhetoric intensifying ahead of snap elections next Sunday, party leaders are to be put on the spot Wednesday during a televised debate.

The comments of former prime minister and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and his key opponent, Evangelos Meimarakis of conservative New Democracy, are expected to come under particular scrutiny as their parties are neck and neck in opinion polls and Meimarakis has built on his popularity to rival that of Tsipras.

The debate will also involve PASOK leader Fofi Gennimata, Potami’s Stavros Theodorakis, Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas and Independent Greeks head Panos Kammenos, but not Nikos Michaloliakos of neofascist Golden Dawn. The debate is to start at 9 p.m. and reporters are expected to question the leaders on their stances on key issues ranging from the economy and immigration to health and education.

Meanwhile campaigning is heating up. The key aim in the SYRIZA camp appears to be distancing the leftists from the memorandum, as many smaller opposition parties are declaring that, following Tsipras’s signing of a third bailout, ND and SYRIZA are both essentially pro-bailout parties.

Tsipras and fellow SYRIZA candidates are expected to emphasize their commitment to lightening the burden of the new bailout with alternative measures while also warning that an ND victory could result in various SYRIZA laws being revoked, paving the way for new dismissals in the civil service and the compromising of workers’ rights as well as the risk of a fire sale of Greek state assets.

Meimarakis and ND, meanwhile, have insisted in recent days on the need for a broader cooperation of political forces. The aim is to cast the conservatives as a mature political force which puts the country’s interests above those of the party in a bid to attract the support of thousands of moderate voters. Opinion polls indicate that at least 10 percent of Greeks remain undecided and the two key parties are vying for their vote.

In an interview on Star TV on Monday night, Meimarakis emphasized his willingness to cooperate with SYRIZA and repeated that he would not insist on being awarded the role of premier if ND wins the elections and power-sharing talks get under way. Tsipras has ruled out cooperating with ND but has suggested that a broader alliance including PASOK and Potami could be possible.

Smaller parties have also ratcheted up their campaigns. Popular Unity, the breakaway party of SYRIZA rebels set up by former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, gave a press conference at the Thessaloniki International Fair Tuesday, again broaching the contentious issue of the drachma. “The national currency is not a disaster,” he told reporters.

Lafazanis, who is alleged to have had a plan to break into Greece’s mint, features in a tongue-in-cheek pre-election campaign ad for Popular Unity which aired on Greek television Tuesday. At the Thessaloniki press conference, flanked on one side by outspoken Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou, Lafazanis struck a more serious tone.

“Of course there will be difficulties to begin with but not bigger than those we experienced under the memorandums, and especially the third memorandum,” he said.

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