Greek government rules out early elections
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras insisted Thursday that his coalition government aims to hold general elections as scheduled in 2016, dismissing speculation about an early vote to coincide with polls in May for local government and the European Parliament.
Speculation about a possible early election has been spurred by weakening public support for Samaras’ Socialist coalition partners in recent opinion polls.
The governing coalition was formed after elections in 2012 with three parties, but now consists of Samaras’ conservatives and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos’ socialists after the departure of a small left-wing party last year.
Samaras has promised to pull Greece out of a six-year recession this year but faces a strong challenge from parties that are against the country’s bailout program as unemployment and social conditions continue to worsen.
“We will return to surpluses and the money stolen from the Greek people will be returned,” Samaras said.
His comments during a speech to his party lawmakers in Parliament came hours after government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said during a television interview that an early general election was “not an option”.
Samaras also said his debt-ridden country would have a primary surplus — a surplus when not taking into account interest payments on outstanding debt — of nearly 1 billion euros ($1.36 billion) for 2013. Greece, he said, had achieved the sizeable primary surplus a year earlier than expected.
Greece has been dependent since 2010 on billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund after massive debt and a gaping budget deficit left it unable to borrow on the international market. In return, successive governments have had to impose waves of harsh austerity measures to reform the economy.
A group of visiting members from the European Parliament on Thursday, meanwhile, expressed strong criticism of eurozone bailout monitors — the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund — known as the troika.
The parliament would like a greater say in how bailout programs are handled.
“The time of the troika is over,” Liem Hoang Ngoc, a French member of the monitoring team said. “The troika must be dismantled and replaced by mechanism that is democratically controlled.”