ATHENS, Greece – Greece's 300 newly elected lawmakers were sworn in to Parliament on Thursday, eleven days after the country's second election in six weeks left no party with enough votes to govern outright and leading to the formation of a three-party coalition government.
The deputies sworn in during a religious ceremony led by Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of Greece's Orthodox Church, included 18 members of the extremist far-right Golden Dawn party, a group that rejects the neo-Nazi label but whose members have frequently been accused of violent attacks against immigrants.
Among the party's deputies who were sworn in was party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, 31, who became a household name in Greece earlier this month after slapping a Communist Party candidate during a live TV political talk show and then evading an arrest for three days until the warrant expired.
As they had done when they were sworn in for a single day after the May 6 inconclusive elections — when they had gained 21 Parliamentary seats — the 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers remained seated when the country's three Muslim deputies took their oath on the Quran. At the time, Parliament only sat for a day before being dissolved as coalition talks had failed to form a government and new elections were required.
Golden Dawn gained massive support in this year's elections, running on an anti-immigrant and anti-bailout platform and promising to "clean up" crime-ridden neighborhoods from immigrants. The party advocates expelling all immigrants and planting landmines at Greece's borders with Turkey to prevent illegal immigrants trying to enter the country. It won 6.92 percent in the June 17 election, compared to just 0.29 percent in the previous national election in 2009.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was not present at Thursday's swearing-in ceremony, as he was recovering at home from an eye surgery over the weekend.
His conservative New Democracy party, which came first in both the May 6 and the June 17 elections, now heads a coalition government with the traditional rival socialist PASOK party and the small Democratic Left.
Samaras' fledgling government has been beset by bad luck since it was formed last week. Samaras was hospitalized to repair a detached retina last Friday, the same day that his designated new finance minister, Vasilis Rapanos, was rushed to hospital after a collapse. Rapanos turned down the post earlier this week for health reasons, and Samaras has appointed Yannis Stournaras in his place.
The government also suffered its first resignation earlier this week when the deputy shipping minister stepped down after the main opposition Syriza party accused him of maintaining an offshore company in what appeared to be a conflict of interest.
Samaras' eye problem has also meant he has been unable to travel to Brussels for a European Union summit Thursday and Friday. A Greek delegation including outgoing Finance Minister Giorgos Zanias and headed by the country's president, Karolos Papoulias, is attending the meeting.