Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Greek Leader and Coalition Teeter amid Fresh Turmoil ; Seen as Unilateral, Samaras' Approach Adds Anger to Wave of Unrest

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Greek Leader and Coalition Teeter amid Fresh Turmoil ; Seen as Unilateral, Samaras' Approach Adds Anger to Wave of Unrest

Article excerpt

On Monday, Greece faced the most serious political crisis since Prime Minister Antonis Samaras took power exactly a year ago, and his governing coalition appeared on the verge of unraveling.

It seemed almost too good to be true: For months, relative stability had returned to Greece, and fears that the country would exit the euro had faded like a bad dream. But a political firestorm that ignited here last week after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras dared to fire a swath of once-untouchable civil servants is now threatening to undo all that.

On Monday, Greece faced the most serious political crisis since Mr. Samaras took power exactly a year ago. After issuing an order last week to immediately close the state-run Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. -- setting off a wave of protests and sympathy strikes -- his government coalition appeared on the verge of unraveling.

Whether or not that happens -- and Mr. Samaras may yet find a resolution with his governing partners and skirt the temptation to call an early election -- the latest drama underscores how instability continues to plague the government despite a growing narrative among European leaders and in financial markets that Greece is turning a corner.

On Monday night Mr. Samaras was preparing to face down the members of his fragile coalition, who are seeking to reverse a decision that some of them have called an authoritarian maneuver designed to keep Greece in the good graces of its much-despised creditors.

The maverick politician Alexis Tsipras, leader of the opposition Syriza party, planned to hold a rally of thousands in Syntagma square, near where the government would be meeting. And one of Greece's highest courts met in emergency session to decide whether to simply overrule Mr. Samaras with the tap of a gavel.

"The idea that Greece is somehow out of the woods seems complacent," said Simon Tilford, chief economist at the Center for European Reform in London. "It reflects a readiness to ignore the large scale political challenges facing Greece."

Those challenges are what Mr. Samaras appears to be trying to tame. With his set jaw, dark-hued suits and ties, and an apparent willingness to force unpalatable changes to the Greek state, he has made it his mission to restore Greece's image on the international stage. Since gaining power, he has won the sympathies, if not outright backing, of Europe's ruling class, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who telephoned Mr. Samaras Sunday to urge him to stay the course.

But Mr. Samaras's approach is increasingly stoking ire among politicians in his governing coalition, Greece's raucous unions, as well as average Greeks, who see Mr. Samaras as operating in an increasingly unilateral manner.

In the last several months, he has stepped up his use of emergency decrees and edicts to impose changes that other political parties and Greece's raucous unions have a long history of trying to thwart. Last month, he issued an emergency edict to force schoolteachers on the verge of striking during exams to return to work. Earlier, he used the same tactic to stop strike action by seamen and subway workers. He also introduced emergency decrees imposing stricter supervision on ministries and state bodies and bringing the pensions of Parliament staff into line with those of less privileged employees in the civil service.

But by pulling the plug on the state broadcaster, ERT, and forcing the first real job cuts to Greece's bloated civil service since the country was forced to take an international bailout more than three years ago, Mr. …

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