Greek PM gives his cabinet a touch-up ahead of 2019 elections

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses the nation from the island of Ithaca, Greece, August 21, 2018. Andrea Bonetti/Greek Prime Minister's Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lightly rejigged his cabinet on Tuesday ahead of a general election next year to shore up ebbing support from a public battered by austerity from financial bailouts.

Tsipras kept Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who steered Greece’s exit from its third bailout, and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who was instrumental in brokering an accord ending years of dispute with neighboring Macedonia over its name. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos also kept his job.

The leftist leader switched some ministers around and brought a few new faces to his cabinet including two politicians active in past Socialist administrations. He appointed Myrsini Zorba, a professor of cultural theory, as culture minister.

Interior minister Panos Skourletis, a party stalwart, became the Central Committee Secretary of Tsipras’s Syriza party, and is tasked with reversing a slump in its popularity ratings.

Skourletis was replaced by Alexis Haritsis, who previously served as alternate economy minister.

After criticism over the handling of a huge wildfire last month which killed 97 people, Tsipras moved his administrative reform minister Olga Gerovasili to the Civil Protection ministry. He gave her portfolio to former Socialist foreign minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou.

Tsipras appointed the government’s general secretary Michalis Kalogirou as new justice minister and promoted alternate defense minister Fotis Kouvelis by giving him the shipping portfolio.

Tsipras told his party’s central committee on Monday evening that the changes were aimed at breathing new life into the party and the government ahead of 2019, a year of elections and fresh political challenges.

He ruled out a snap vote, saying that “the mother of all battles” would take place in the autumn of 2019, as planned, after European Parliament elections. Greece holds parliamentary elections every four years and opinion polls show the conservatives enjoying a wide lead over Syriza.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Richard Balmforth/Mark Heinrich