ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s government said on Saturday it will clean up corruption among politicians and restore public trust, but faces flagging support and public anger at measures to resolve a debt crisis that has hit the euro.
Greece has been rocked by a series of major street protests against government measures to cut the country’s deficit and a key demand of the protesters has been a crackdown on corrupt politicians they blame for mismanaging the Greek economy.
“What people want, and the government certainly shares that desire, is for there to be a clean-up both at the political and social level, so that relations between each other clear up and confidence is restored,” government spokesman George Petalotis told a weekly newspaper published on Saturday.
For decades Greeks have tolerated endemic petty corruption and political graft. But the current debt crisis has forced the government to introduce an austerity package in return for a 110-billion euro ($140 billion) EU and IMF bailout.
Investors are closely watching public reaction to the wage cuts and tax hikes, and whether the Socialist government will stand up to public pressure, or soft pedal on painful reforms.
Some 12,000 Communist Party supporters marched through central Athens on Saturday waving red flags and chanting slogans condemning the government.
While much smaller than the 50,000-strong protest in which three people were killed a week ago, the peaceful march illustrated the strength of feeling among just one faction of the many opposed to the government austerity measures.
“We ask for more justice and that the measures do not only burden wage-earners and pensioners. They should be the same for all,” said one of the marchers, Elpida Tarantili, 32.
Greek unions have called a 24-hour general strike on May 20.
Support for both the ruling socialists and the opposition conservatives is falling, while 21 percent of Greeks said they would spoil their ballot if there were an election now, an opinion poll in Ethnos newspaper said on Saturday.
But Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s personal popularity remains strong at 60 percent, and 51 percent of Greeks said last week’s EU-IMF bailout had been imperative.
The depth of anger from a public unwilling to bear the brunt of the cutbacks while politicians and the wealthy appear to prosper, means the government simply must act, analysts say.
Some 88 percent of Greeks said the burden of the cuts was not being not equally shared, the Ethnos poll showed.
“There is such a climate that there is no option for the government other than moving ahead with fighting tax evasion and cleaning up politics,” Konstantinos Routzounis, head of Kappa Research pollster, told Reuters.
For now, parliamentary investigative committees are looking into two corruption scandals dating from the previous conservative government; a land-swap deal that cost the state millions of euros, known as Vatopedi, and a bribes-for-contract affair involving German firm Siemens. The Justice Ministry also is promising to probe the income of top officials.
“Certainly, there is the necessary political will and consent that the Siemens and Vatopedi cases that hurt our country’s political life are cleared out,” Petalotis said.
“But in no case will we fall into the trap of penalizing the country’s political life,” he added. “In no case will we allow blood to be shed in the name of popularism and petty politics.”
Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Louise Ireland