Syriza is undermining democracy in Greece

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In recent months, Greece has largely stayed out of the headlines. As the country prepares to withdraw from its third bailout by the European Stability Mechanism, the economy is growing again and international market jitters have eased, although the growth rate is still anaemic and the lowest in Europe. Greece’s politics tell a different, much darker story, however. The government led by the radical leftwing party Syriza, in coalition with the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks, has mounted an unprecedented attack on independent institutions and the rule of law. Syriza won power in January 2015 after waging a vicious campaign against the government I led — a coalition between the centre-right New Democracy and the social democrats of Pasok. Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza ignored the fact that we managed to turn the economy round and, among other successes, brought government spending under control. In opposition, Syriza refused to vote in favour of bills that aimed to stem the haemorrhaging of public funds. According to Transparency International’s index, Greece also improved its world ranking in the fight against corruption while my government was in power. We instituted stricter penalties for the bribery of state officials, treating this as a felony, where previously it had been considered a misdemeanour. Unfortunately, this success met the fate suffered by most of our achievements once Syriza took power. We had merged all anti-corruption agencies into a single independent watchdog, which the Syriza-led government promptly abolished, replacing it with a centrally controlled general secretariat. Today, Syriza is facing the political consequences of the disastrous policies it has pursued in the past three years. Its popularity is half what it was when it took office, while New Democracy, the principal opposition party, is way ahead in the polls. A desperate Mr Tsipras decided, as a last resort, to try to eliminate his rivals. An ex-member of the Communist Youth of Greece and a confirmed admirer of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, the prime minister has sought to turn a case involving the Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis from an international health sector scandal into an opportunity for political mudslinging. I and another former prime minister, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, and eight other high-ranking politicians have been named in a report by Greece’s anti-corruption prosecutor on corruption in the health service. We have been singled out on the basis of vague and groundless allegations made in the testimonies of three “protected” witnesses. Syriza is setting an alarming precedent: two ex-prime ministers are being persecuted on the basis of unfounded allegations made by anonymous protected witnesses. The aim of Mr Tsipras and his colleagues is to discredit their rivals. They obviously do not care that the ultimate victim of their actions will be Greek democracy. In February, Nikos Salatas, the general secretary of the Union of Judges and Prosecutors Association, warned Vassiliki Thanou, head of the prime minister’s legal office, not to intimidate judges in the Novartis case. Meanwhile, the deputy minister of justice blithely confessed in parliament that he has been in communication with the prosecutor handling it. And, Mr Tsipras’s press attaché, Thanasis Karteros, published an article on my case which evoked the Greek civil war of 1946 to 1949. The Novartis case is the final chapter in the story of a failing government of demagogues who have tried to take advantage of democratic rule in order to install a Latin-American type illiberal leftist regime in Greece. They must not be allowed to win.

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