No honeymoon for new Greek leader

Greek Premier-elect Costas Caramanlis began the difficult task today of forming a conservative administration that will have to balance pledges of smaller government with promises for generous social spending.

Greek Premier-elect Costas Caramanlis began the difficult task today of forming a conservative administration that will have to balance pledges of smaller government with promises for generous social spending.

Caramanlis, 47, who swept the long-running Socialists from power in Sunday’s elections, will also have to deal with urgent deadlines for the August Olympics without alienating the Socialist-dominated unions required to get the job done.

“I want to underline that the people trusted us with their confidence. Our responsibilities are very great and we are obliged to respond to their expectations. We start work immediately,” Caramanlis said after President Costis Stephanopoulos gave him the mandate to form a government.

A new government will be sworn in on Wednesday and Caramanlis said he will announce his new cabinet on Tuesday.

With more than 99% of the vote counted, Caramanlis’ New Democracy party defeated former Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s Socialists 45.38% to 40.56%.

The result gave New Democracy 165 seats in the 300-member parliament. The Socialists received 117 seats, Greece’s Communist Party got 12 and the Coalition of the Radical Left won six seats.

There have been reports that Caramanlis may seek to speed up preparations for the games by creating an Olympics ministry led Athens Organising Committee chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, a former New Democracy parliament deputy.

“The new premier and his future cabinet are ready to handle the problems that exist in the Olympic Games simply because, all this year, they followed the development of the Olympic works very closely,” political analyst Anthony Livanios said.

Caramanlis also will have to guide Greece in the UN backed talks to reunite the war-divided island of Cyprus, which will join the EU on May 1 along with nine other new members.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said today that he hoped to visit Athens for talks on Cyprus early next month.

Caramanlis has pledged an administration smaller than the Socialist cabinet which governed Greece for the past 11 years. Made up of 19 ministries and 50 cabinet members, that government was considered unwieldy.

Many Olympic delays been blamed on excessive bureaucracy.

Caramanlis has promised to slash red tape, reduce and simplify taxes to boost growth and cut an unemployment rate of about 9%. He has also pledged more funds for social welfare, education and health.

Although Greece has one of the highest growth rates in the European Union, at 4.7%, it is fuelled greatly by Olympic projects.

Caramanlis has complained that Greece’s economy could be stronger if the Socialists had better managed EU funds aimed at improving its infrastructure.

Other promises include cleaning up public finances, tainted by allegations of corruption under the socialists, by appointing corporate-style managers at government agencies and creating an independent authority to oversee state contracts.

But the new prime minister has also tried to tread a fine line with the civil service and broader public sector, which employs more than half-a-million people.

Socialist-dominated unions are almost certain to stage strikes if Caramanlis makes any attempt to purge a bureaucracy bloated by party appointees over the past 20 years.

“He lacks the luxury of a grace period,” columnist Pantelis Boukalas wrote in the respected Athens newspaper Kathimerini. “Sometimes, handling victory is harder than achieving it.”

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