Greek caretaker prime minister starts four-week tenure | News | DW | 16.05.2012
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Greek caretaker prime minister starts four-week tenure

Greece has sworn in a senior judge as caretaker prime minister for one month as the country prepares for further elections. Panagiotis Pikrammenos was selected after nine days of coalition negotiations failed.

The head of Greece's top administrative court, 67-year-old Panagiotis Pikrammenos, was sworn in as caretaker prime minister Wednesday - an interim solution after May elections failed to produce a viable coalition government. The veteran judge, whose political mandate is limited to the bare essentials, will be tasked with organizing another election on June 17.

President Karolos Papoulias, the last actor to try and fail to cobble a coalition together, appointed Pikrammenos to the post and is likely to fill other key positions with neutral figures like diplomats or retired military officers. Veteran diplomat Petros Molyviatis was linked with the foreign minister's post, while retired general Frangoulis Frangos was mooted as an interim defense minister.

The unelected caretaker government has a very limited mandate, with the Greek Communist party explicitly calling on them to refrain from any major decisions.

"It will be a strictly caretaker government, which must not take any action at the EU or NATO that will be binding for the Greek people," Communist party leader Aleka Papariga said. "If there is an emergency or unforeseen event, then that can be addressed by consultation among the parties with the involvement of the president."

Greece's traditional political powerhouses, the conservative New Democracy party and the Socialist PASOK bloc, suffered massive election losses in May. These two groups at least broadly support the terms of Greece's so-called bailouts, while the remaining parties - who posted massive gains on voter dissatisfaction - want either to renegotiate or to scrap them. Neither of these broad sets of parties had sufficient support to form a functioning coalition.

Newly appointed caretaker Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos, right, shakes hands with outgoing Prime Minister Lucas Papademos

Pikrammenos (r.) takes over from former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos

Recent surveys suggest that the second-placed far-left Syriza bloc, the most powerful group to oppose the terms of international assistance for Greece, might improve in a second election and become the strongest party.

Cautious European partners watch on

The protracted coalition negotiations finally collapsed on Tuesday, nine days after the Greek election.

"In a democracy, new elections are the natural consequence of the impossibility to form a government following an election," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "It will now be for the Greek people to take a fully informed decision on the alternatives, having in mind that this will be indeed an historic election."

Barroso went on to say that Europe would of course "respect the democratic decision of the Greek people," but said that by the same token, Greek people should respect democratic decisions taken in the other 16 eurozone member countries.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told television station France 24 that two options were on the table from an interntional perspective, either "supplementary financing and additional time, or mechanisms for an exit [from the eurozone], which in this case must be orderly."

Chancellor Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Germany's hope was for "a Greek government which is capable of acting" to emerge from June elections as swiftly as possible.

"I am not going to say anything here and now about the payment of tranches [of international loans] which are due at the end of June - that doesn't have to be decided in mid-May."

Syriza party leader, and possible election front-runner Alexis Tsipras, meanwhile, called in an interview with the BBC for "European leadership and especially Mrs Merkel … to stop playing poker with the lives of people." Tsipras said that banks were profiting from the Greek rescue, while ordinary people were suffering, calling austerity "a disease."

msh/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)