Tag Archives: Panayiotis Psomiadis

Walking free or striding to jail?

Papageorgopoulos_390_2802They called him the “flying doctor” due to his sprinting exploits in the 1970s and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras referred to him in the past as an “honest man,” but on Wednesday the only place ex-Thessaloniki Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos was striding to was Diavata Prison, where he is reportedly sharing a cell with nine rather dishonest men.

Papageorgopoulos and two ex-municipal employees were given life sentences for embezzling some 18 million euros from City Hall between 1999 and 2010, when the New Democracy politician served two terms as Thessaloniki mayor. Papageorgopoulos draped an overcoat over his arms as he left for prison to hide his handcuffs from photographers but it’s difficult to imagine what part of his reputation the 65-year-old thought he was protecting after being convicted of systematically plundering taxpayers’ money for over a decade. Nevertheless, Papageorgopoulos denies any wrongdoing and says he will appeal the decision.

While there is undoubtedly a personal story in all this (the tale of how a man who once competed for medals on the track ended up competing for space in a prison exercise yard), Papageorgopoulos’s spectacular fall carries two significant and wider implications for Greece.

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From Zorro to zero

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

When then Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis dressed up as Zorro a few years ago and rode through the northern port city on a trusty steed to celebrate carnival season he thought he was sitting pretty, but he was just setting himself up for a big fall.

Psomiadis’s turn as the masked hero was in keeping with his ceaseless attempts to appeal to public opinion’s lowest common denominator while putting himself on the highest pedestal. Now the governor of Central Macedonia, the 63-year-old is in danger of being toppled after a failed appeal against a suspended prison sentence. Psomiadis’s career could come to an end at a time when his particular breed of politician seems to be threatened with extinction.
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Samaras – never say never

By Manos Symeonakis

From outsider to leader in less than two months and from party outcast to party president in over a decade, Antonis Samaras’s unlikely rise to the top of New Democracy is proof that you can never say never in politics.

Contrary to what many people thought, the ND leadership contest will not go to a second round, as Samaras edged past the 50-percent mark on Sunday to dash the longstanding hopes that Dora Bakoyannis had of leading the conservative party.

So why did Samaras win?

Until the start of this year, it seemed the unlikeliest of stories. After falling out with Bakoyannis’s father, Constantine Mitsotakis in 1992, Samaras went on to form his own party the following year. His decision to cross the prime minister by adopting an approach on the Macedonia issue that was too strident, proved ill-fated as Samaras’s party, Poltical Spring, burnt brightly and then fizzled out during the course of the Nineties, never managing to gather more than 5 percent of the vote.

Samaras was brought back into the fold by Costas Karamanlis for the 2004 Euroelections and then stood for Parliament as an ND candidate in the 2007 general election. It was Karamanlis’s decision to make Samaras culture minister in his cabinet reshuffle in this January’s cabinet that gave the former finance and foreign minister the springboard to launch a bid for the party leadership.

Back in the cabinet, Samaras had regained the luster of power but being in charge of the culture portfolio meant that he could hardly be blamed for the conservative governments major mistakes. In fact, fate was on Samaras’s side as his time in office coincided with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum – putting him at the center of a story that had only positive aspects and was a great opportunity to raise his profile at home and abroad.

From this platform, Samaras used his campaign to appeal to New Democracy’s hardcore support: the older generation of right-wingers who were not interested in appeals to middle ground voters; the conservatives, of which there are many in Greece, who were totally dejected and angered by the capitulation of Costas Karamanlis’s government; the ND faithful who felt that Karamanlis decision to compromise the party’s ideology so it could return to power had not been a trade-off worth making.

Samaras tapped into this sense of frustration much better than Bakoyannis during the campaign. The latter’s call for ND to be a much broader church fell on many deaf ears. After the 10 percent defeat to PASOK in the October general election, too many conservatives saw this as more of the same.

Also Samaras’s appeal to conservative values, particularly their nationalist strain, rang true following 5.5 years in which many ND supporters felt that their party had conceded too much ground in foreign policy, on immigration, crime and so on.

However, the decision of Dimitris Avramopoulos to drop out of the race and back Samaras gave the latter’s campaign the real boost it needed going into the final stretch. For, although Samaras was convincing those on the right, by teaming up with the more moderate, populist Avramopoulos, he was sending a message to the more centrist ND voters that he would not close his door or mind to other interpretations of the conservative ideology.

Of course, a part of Samaras’s victory had nothing to do with anything he did. There was a section of the ND support that simply did not want Bakoyannis, under any circumstances, to be the party’s leader. This stemmed back to her father’s time in office but also to a section of the conservative electorate that, having seen the nephew of a former ND leader fail, did not want to continue the nepotism within the party.

So, from a position when the party leadership seemed a distant dream, Samaras now has his hands firmly on the party’s reins thanks to Sunday’s clear victory. What next? A tilt at the premiership? Never say never.

Nick Malkoutzis

New Democracy showdown

Illustration/stats by Manos Symeonakis

New Democracy members around the country will vote on Sunday, November 29, for a new party leader in a hotly contested race that has caused a significant rift within the opposition party.

Ex-Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and former Culture Minister Antonis Samaras will fight it out for the ND presidency but the third candidate, Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis, could end up playing a vital role if the election goes to a second round.

Ever since outgoing party leader and former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced on the night of the October 4 general elections that he would be stepping down following a crushing 10-percent defeat by PASOK, Bakoyannis and Samaras have been the most likely candidates to take over.

Early in the campaign, former Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos also declared his candidacy but eventually stepped aside and declared in favor of Samaras.

Avramopoulos’s move into the Samaras camp underlined just how much the contest has split the conservatives. Bakoyannis and Samaras are old adversaries and in many ways both are divisive figures within the party. There has been bad blood between the two since Samaras left the conservative government of Constantine Mitsotakis, Bakoyannis’s father, in the early 1990s. This led to its downfall and apart from Bakoyannis there are many others within the party who are not willing to forgive Samaras.

However, there is also a grouping within ND that was upset with Mitsotakis’s style of governing and does not want to see his daughter in charge, preferring a break with the past. Samaras has played on this theme during his campaign, often referring to “mechanisms” within the party favoring his rival.

Bakoyannis has hit back at Samaras over his decision to quit ND. “All my political life has been spent in New Democracy, I had no breaks or pauses,” said Bakoyannis.

During an extraordinary party congress on November 7 and 8, Samaras and Bakoyannis also set out different visions for the party. Samaras said it needs to be grounded in its right-wing beliefs but Bakoyannis suggested it must have a broader appeal in order to attract the middle-ground voters who usually decide election results.

She accused Samaras of sticking to an ideology that would marginalize the party.

“I am not promoting isolation,” he responded. “I am trying to extend our influence everywhere. We will not let ND be shifted or genetically modified.”

The supporters of the two camps have been involved in increasingly hostile exchanges, which have caused many conservatives to fear for the party’s unity following the election of a new leader.

The process by which the new ND president will be elected also proved to be a source of disagreement. After much arguing, it was agreed that all party members, including those that sign up on the actual voting day, would be able to cast a ballot.

As a result, it has been difficult for pollsters to predict the outcome of Sunday’s vote. Since Avramopoulos joined the Samaras campaign, the ex-Culture Minister has taken the lead in opinion polls. A survey of more than 1,000 people by Public Issue for Sunday’s Kathimerini suggested that Samaras would win the first round but would not gain the 50 percent needed to prevent a second round. In the likely case of a second round, Psomiadis would drop out and Samaras would run off against Bakoyannis. Psomiadis insists he will not tell his supporters who to vote for.

Public Issue’s poll shows Samaras winning this contest as well. However, pollsters point out that only about a third of respondents are ND supporters and of those not all will vote. Also, there may be many new members who sign up at the last minute, making it very difficult to predict the outcome.

Nick Malkoutzis