- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ATHENS — Greek conservative party head Antonis Samaras was sworn in as prime minister Wednesday at the helm of a three-party coalition that will uphold the country’s international bailout commitments.

The move ends a protracted political crisis that had cast grave doubt over the country’s future in Europe’s joint currency and threatened to plunge the continent deeper into a financial crisis with global repercussions.

The new government still has massive challenges ahead - it must deliver on pledges by its predecessors to generate huge new savings, privatize publicly owned companies and real estate, cut about 150,000 civil service jobs in coming years and open restricted professions to competition.

Mr. Samaras, a U.S.-educated 61-year-old economist, was sworn in three days after his New Democracy party won the second national elections in six weeks but without enough votes to form a government on its own. He is Greece’s fourth prime minister in eight months.

The conservatives will join forces with the socialist PASOK party, which came in third place, and the smaller Democratic Left, led by Fotis Kouvelis.

“I will ask the new government … to work hard so that we can offer tangible hope to our people,” Mr. Samaras told reporters as he left the presidential mansion.

Greek stocks rose marginally in response to the news, with Athens shares closing up 0.5 percent.

Analyst Theodore Krintas said he expects markets to welcome the breakthrough.

“The formation of a government … will take part of the uncertainty away and, at the same time hopefully, will take Greece out of the [headlines] of the mass media all over the world,” said Mr. Krintas, who is managing director of Attica Wealth Management.

The new prime minister was scheduled to meet with outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zanias, PASOK head Evangelos Venizelos and Mr. Kouvelis on Wednesday evening.

All three parties broadly back Greece’s pledges for more austerity and reforms, although they have pledged to renegotiate some of the terms for the rescue loans.

Mr. Samaras campaigned on promises to lower taxes, restart the economy and provide income boosts to low earners, large families, police and fighter pilots.

New Democracy and PASOK also are looking for an extension of at least two years in the deadlines for implementing fresh cutbacks worth a total of $18.42 billion.

Mr. Kouvelis went a bit further Wednesday, saying that Greece should eventually “disengage” from the austerity commitments and “lift those measures that have literally bled society.”

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