November 5th, 2011
03:37 PM GMT
Athens, Greece - What a difference a day can make. It's saturday and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has survived the midnight confidence vote, seen President Karolos Papoulias and is now going about forming a coalition government with a few smaller parties.
Does it matter who forms a coalition government? Not really. The bottom line is that whoever is the next Prime Minister - and my money is on Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos – s/he will still have to cobble together a majority of the 300-member parliament to do one thing and one thing only: pass the massive austerity package agreed in Brussels on 27 October. It’s that simple.
The Greeks don’t like the pain and austerity that has been imposed on them by their own government in return for massive loans from the IMF and the European Union. But there is really no choice. Sure, the opposition party, New Democracy, has promised less pain - but don’t parties out of power always promise that? Anyway, the word on the street in Athens is that New Democracy will not be a part of any coalition government.
Venizelos said Friday night he wanted to see a temporary three-month government that would push through all the necessary legislation by February. After that, I suspect, would follow elections.
The hope here is that it will buy enough time to keep markets calm, get the massive October program implemented across Europe and let people focus on the next hot spot: Italy.
So, what do people in Athens think of all this? Those I have spoken to have summed it up in a few words: confusion, anger and humiliation.
The confusion came when the PM said he wanted the Greek people to vote in a referendum on the latest bailout agreement. I sense he made that decision out of anger and frustration, that the he was not cheered in Athens for the deal he struck. But now the referendum is dead, to the delight of the rest of Europe. After all, what if the Greek people voted no to austerity to punish Papandreou? EU leaders said that could mean the end of Greece in the euro.
The anger has not been the anger of violent protests: we have seen well organized and peaceful marches this week. Rather it has been directed at all of Greece's main political parties, who are jointly held responsible for a decade of mismanagement. Noone here believes that there is a political savior waiting in the wings.
There are many news channels in Greece and numerous newspapers – extraordinary for a country of only eight million - and the Greeks note with great interest that the international media is once again back in Athens. State broadcaster ERT is showing video of my reports and CNN anchors, as well as the BBC and Sky. Last night, nearly every balcony in our hotel featured a foreign broadcaster with a portable satellite dish, using the Greek parliament building opposite as a backdrop.
The nitty gritty of Greek politics is not, in the longer term, crucial to the bigger storm surrounding the European crisis. But the Greek media is very aware of how the country is perceived by the rest of the world. And that’s where the humiliation comes in. As one woman on the street told me: “Please don’t say the Greek people are lazy, we are not.” Instead she blames Greek politicians of all stripes.
I suspect most Greeks would back what their PM said Friday night: “We have to move from a Greece of deficits and move on to a Greece of credibility.”
Amen to that.
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