ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two of Greece's former Socialist ministers on Wednesday announced the formation of a breakaway party as the debt-stricken country gears up for general elections in which the majority Socialists are expected to take a severe drubbing.
Former development minister Louka Katseli, who formed the breakaway party, was expelled from the majority PASOK Socialists in February after refusing to vote in favor of painful austerity reforms demanded by Greece's creditors in return for continued funding from international bailouts.
Katseli will head the new Social Contract party. Former justice and interior minister Haris Kastanidis joined her ranks and was given a senior position, while five former PASOK parliament members have also declared their support for the new party.
Katseli promised to ease the austerity that has plunged Greece's economy into a fifth year of recession and seen unemployment hit 21 percent.
"We are listening to you ... We are responding to your demands to create a new political alliance," Katseli, 59, said at a launch event in Athens.
Katseli, a U.S.-trained professor of economics, argued that policies imposing austerity during a recession were doomed to fail.
"We can overturn the rationale that places the market above society ... Under the present conditions, the deficit targets will not be met and the national debt will increase, leading with mathematical certainty to additional socially negative measures."
PASOK itself faces a change of leadership this weekend, with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos standing as the only candidate in party elections this Sunday to take over from former Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Venizelos indicated Wednesday he will step down from his post as finance minister when he is formally elected.
"I can't continue playing a double role," he told private Alpha television. "Once I take over and as soon as I take over the duties of leader of the largest party in parliament, I must dedicate myself to those duties."
PASOK won a landslide victory in 2009 general elections, but party defections and public anger over austerity measures prompted it to form an interim coalition government with the rival conservatives last November.
Recent opinion polls have seen its support sink to as low as 11 percent, with general elections expected in late April.
Social Contract Party: http://www.koinonikisymfonia.gr/