Greece names top judge as caretaker PM ahead of snap vote

Outgoing Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and Supreme Court judge Vassiliki Thanou at a meeting in Athens in 2014.
Outgoing Greek PM Alexis Tsipras and Supreme Court judge Vassiliki Thanou at a meeting in Athens in 2014.REUTERS

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece on Thursday named its top judge as caretaker prime minister to organise early elections expected next month, the fifth in the crisis-hit country in six years.

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said he had chosen Vassiliki Thanou, the head of Greece’s Supreme Court and the first woman to assume the post.

Mother-of-three Thanou, 65, is known for firing off an emotional letter to European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker in February, protesting that austerity cuts were “annihilating” the Greek people.

“The people are not responsible for the waste of public money by past governments and for mistakes in tax policy,” she wrote, adding that the austerity measures “have failed as the recession continues as the rich continue to evade taxes”.

Thanou, who holds a degree in European law from France’s Sorbonne university, will take her oath of office later Thursday and her administration will be sworn in on Friday, the president’s office said.

The date for Greece’s general election is to be officially announced by the end of the week, but it is likely to be scheduled for Sept 20.

Outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has ruled out forming a national unity government should he fail to win a outright majority in the snap elections triggered after he resigned last week.

Tsipras called for the fresh vote on Aug 20 after suffering a major rebellion in his hard-left Syriza party over Greece’s huge new international bailout, its third in five years.

But on Wednesday, he dismissed suggestions he could work with the conservative opposition New Democracy, the Pasok socialists or the centre-right Potami if the election results were inconclusive.

“I will not become a prime minister who cooperates with New Democracy, Pasok or Potami,” Tsipras said in an interview with the Alpha TV channel, his first since resigning.

“If we do not have a majority, I will not cooperate with (the parties that ran) previous governments.”


Syriza stormed to election victory in January on a wave of popular anger over tough austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors in exchange for two previous bailouts since 2010.

But the party has been bitterly divided over Tsipras’ decision to accept more tough reforms in exchange for a new 86 billion euro (S$137 billion) rescue package, with hard-left rebels accusing him of capitulating to “blackmail” by the creditors.

On Aug 21, 25 Syriza rebels announced the formation of a new political grouping, Popular Unity, led by Panagiotis Lafazanis, a former senior Communist who has argued that Greece can happily exist without the euro.

“We are the true continuation of Syriza and its electoral pledges,” Lafazanis said on Thursday.

Tsipras remains popular, although in the absence of recent opinion polls it is difficult to know whether he could win an absolute majority in the forthcoming poll.

The 41-year-old leader’s opponents had sought to delay the election, hoping that voters will be less likely to vote for Syriza once the new austerity measures begin to bite in the autumn.

The EU has taken the snap ballot decision in its stride, and debt rating agency Moody’s has even called Tsipras’ resignation “credit positive,” arguing that it could well create a more cohesive government.