June 22, 2013
It seemed a good idea at the time. On June 11th Antonis Samaras, the prime minister, eager to show that his fractious coalition could push through public-sector reform, shut the overstaffed state broadcaster ERT without warning and sacked its 2,650 employees. Few Greeks watch ERT’s four television channels; its programmes are dull and its news anchors are political stooges (a leaked list found dozens of employees earning six-figure salaries). And the European Union and the IMF, who oversee Greece’s bail-out, were waiting impatiently for the government to come up with the names of 2,000 public-sector workers to be sacked by June 30th.
Mr Samaras pledged to have a lean new public broadcaster, with only 1,200 employees, up and running by August. But hundreds of protesters camped outside ERT’s headquarters. Other European public broadcasters voiced outrage at the closure; ERT employees streamed unofficial news programmes over the internet. The opposition Syriza party talked of “a coup against democracy.” And Mr Samaras’s coalition partners, the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), and the Democratic Left, demanded the withdrawal of the decree closing ERT. Then a ruling by Greece’s highest court, in response to an appeal by the ERT’s trade union, said the broadcaster should reopen, though it backed the government’s right to restructure it.
For a few days, it seemed the government might collapse, but it is still wobbling along. Most Greeks prefer to keep the coalition and avoid a snap election. If one were held, Pasok might not win the 3% needed to enter parliament, according to polls; and Democratic Left’s leader might be unseated. A fiery speech by Alexis Tsipras, the Syriza leader, at an open-air rally outside parliament on June 17th drew fewer people than expected. Mr Samaras promises a cabinet reshuffle.