Greek opposition calls for elections after TV auction fail

ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s conservative opposition called Thursday for early elections after a court declared illegal an auction of private television licenses — an embarrassing setback for the country’s left-wing government.

The high court ruled Wednesday that the auction must be cancelled because the government bypassed the authority of an independent broadcast regulator, forcing the state to pay back money it has received from the 246 million euro ($275 million) sale.

The government pledged to honour the high court rejection of its attempted shakeup of private TV broadcasting, but it strongly criticized the ruling. Greece’s association of judges and prosecutors, in turn, complained that the government was trying to embroil the judiciary in politics.

The fallout gave the opposition ammunition for demanding early elections.

“The government has embarrassed the country domestically and abroad, projecting an image of a failed administration that has no respect for the democratic institutions,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, said in a televised address.

New Democracy is leading opinion polls as Greeks face continued distress from financial austerity tied to the country’s international bailout agreements. The party has demanded elections on several occasions.

Nikos Pappas, a minister of state whose office drafted the law that was struck down as unconstitutional, says he will present new draft legislation Monday on TV licensing rules.