Antonis Samaras, a Conservative Bruiser Bent on Greek Growth

By webadmin on 10:22 am Jun 19, 2012
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Athens.
Greek conservative chief Antonis Samaras, the winner
of Sunday’s crucial election, is a hawkish former foreign minister who has vowed
to banish recession and rid the country of undocumented migrants. He will helm a fragile coalition of divergent ideologies on how to rescue Greece from sinking under the weight of its own debt.

The 61-year-old politician, a Harvard-educated economist by training, intends to
renegotiate some of the terms of Greece’s EU-IMF bailout with the
country’s creditors — and he has a track record of confrontation when he
wants to get his point across.

Twenty years ago as a foreign minister, Samaras did not hesitate to bring
down an entire government after a foreign policy spat with the prime
minister.

Today, he plans to use his political affiliation with
key European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Commission President Jose
Manuel Barroso, to secure an easier recovery transition for
crisis-crippled Greece.

“Tomorrow a new era starts for Greece,” Samaras told reporters on
Sunday as he voted in his family seat of Pylos in the southern
Peloponnese peninsula.

The pro-business conservatives want to
cut top income tax thresholds and sales tax and mobilize European funds
for construction projects to pull the economy out of a five-year trough
that has left over a million jobless.

Samaras has famously pledged to “eat iron” to bring investment to Greece.

The conservative chief in 2010 refused to approve a first EU-IMF bailout deal worth 110 billion euros. 

After
weeks of posturing, he gave his conditional consent last year to a
second package of 130 billion euros after European leaders threatened
Greece with bankruptcy.

He also insisted on holding early elections, ending the term of a
six-month Socialist-Conservative coalition government under former
European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos that controlled an
overwhelming parliamentary majority. 

New Democracy technically won on May 6 — the inconclusive election
that triggered Sunday’s ballot — but with the worst showing in the
party’s history.

Samaras met with the leader of the socialist
Pasok party Evangelos Venizelos — his most likely coalition partner —
and was expected to see the head of the small Democratic Left party,
another possible ally.

“A national agreement is an imperative,” Samaras  said. “We need to resolve the question immediately.”

New Democracy won 129 of the 300 parliamentary seats in Sunday’s
vote, the radical leftist Syriza party won 71 seats, Pasok 33,
Independent Greeks 20, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn 18, Democratic Left 17
and the Communist Party 12.

Pasok has called for other leftist parties to be included in any coalition, and some Pasok cadres reportedly want to refuse the invitation, but socialist former prime minister Costas Simitis on Monday urged them to show bravery.

“Courage is called for, not fear,” said Simitis, who served two terms as prime minister in 1996-2004 and ushered Greece into the euro.

He said the three main parties seen as championing Greece’s European future — New Democracy, Pasok and the Democratic Left — “must cooperate or they will lead Greece to a euro zone exit and the drachma.”

Analyst Yiannis Loulis was downbeat about any new government’s chances.
“It was mainly a vote of fear against the exit from the euro, not a real support of the reforms,” he said. “The government will be fragile, with a fragile popular base, and I do not think it is going to last very long.”

Greece is under international pressure to set up a government quickly and respect an EU-IMF bailout that has enforced unpopular austerity, helping radical leftists win more than a quarter of the vote in Sunday’s election.

Syriza has ruled out joining any coalition but promises to be a powerful force in Greek politics for the future, with its firebrand leader Alexis Tsipras vowing on Monday that he would “keep the government in check.”

Samaras, The Rising Star

At only 26, Samaras was once one of the youngest
politicians elected to Greece’s parliament and a rising conservative
star who reached his peak as foreign minister in the early 1990s. But he fell spectacularly from grace during Greece’s bitter diplomatic crisis with neighboring Macedonia.

Samaras
had favored adopting a strong stance against the newly-independent
former Yugoslav republic, which was seen in Greece to have usurped the
name of one of its northern territories after declaring independence in
1991.

But he clashed with then prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis over the issue and defected, bringing down the government.

Samaras formed his own nationalist party, Political Spring, and retreated into the political wilderness for nearly a decade. But he would ironically return to the conservatives over a decade
later and defeat Mitsotakis’s daughter for the party leadership in 2009.

Samaras
now intends to take a stronger stance on illegal migration by
toughening residency and naturalization requirements that had been
relaxed by the previous socialist administration.

“There is a mass of immigrants, a million of them without work,” Samaras told AFP last week on the sidelines of a party meeting.

“We will stop this invasion,” he said.

Samaras
has promised the abolition of a law passed by the previous Socialist
government that opened the way for second-generation immigrants to be
granted Greek citizenship, as well as a series of reforms to boost
security.

Greece has around 800,000 legally-registered immigrants — many of
whom have come from Albania — and a number of undocumented immigrants
estimated at more than 350,000, including Afghans, Bangladeshis and
Pakistanis.

Ironically, Samaras himself is not entirely blameless on undocumented migration according to his critics.

As
foreign minister, Samaras is said to have contributed to the first wave
of illegal migration by opening the border to ethnic Greeks from
neighboring Albania as its Communist regime imploded.

A father of two, Samaras is descended from one of Greece’s top
families and holds economics and business management degrees from
Amherst College and Harvard.

His forebears were wealthy ethnic
Greek merchants from Alexandria who founded the Benaki Museum, one of
Greece’s leading cultural establishments, while his great-grandmother
Penelope Delta was one of the country’s best-loved novelists.

Agence France-Presse