ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative-led coalition government has survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament by a margin of 153-124 after more than two days of debate, ending any talk of early elections.
The tally came in after 1 a.m. on Nov. 11 and followed party lines with Samaras’ New Democracy party members and those of his partners, the Socialists of PASOK, who together have 154 votes in the 300-member body beating back the attempt by the major opposition party SYRIZA to censure the government for authorizing the forced eviction of former workers at the closed national broadcaster ERT.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Syntagma Square in Central Athens ahead of the vote which began after midnight on Nov. 10 and came after more than two days of arguments that became a contest of arguments on austerity being imposed on the orders of international lenders.
Tension was high with political rivals slinging mud and barbs at each other with government critics blaming Samaras, the New Democracy leader, and his partner for all the country’s ills real or imagined, and the ruling parties accusing their opponents of being shameless populists. Yiannis Dragasakis, a prominent SYRIZA deputy, earlier told the House that his party’s censure motion was “not only our right but an act of democratic responsibility.”
Addressing Parliament before the vote, Samaras condemned SYRIZA for undermining the government’s efforts to heal the country’s economy and negotiate with visiting envoys of international lenders.
“You think you can topple the government with your censure motion,” Samaras said, accusing the leftist of “doing everything they can to perpetuate chaos.” “The sacrifices of the people are starting to pay off,” he said, accusing SYRIZA of proposing no realistic alternatives to the government’s economic program.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras lashed out at the government for imposing disastrous policies that he said have “decimated” the middle class. “Do you sleep well at night, Mr. Prime Minister?” he said, declaring that Samaras had “destroyed society.” Tsipras called for snap elections so that Greeks can “reject the memorandum.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos told his MPs earlier that the call for a no-confidence vote on the government constituted an “act of irresponsibility against the nation.” He immediately expelled one of his members who voted in favor of the motion, Theodora Tzakri, leaving the party with only 26 members and the government with 153.
The Democratic Left, which was the third party in the coalition until quitting in June over the ERT shut-down, said its 14 MPs would vote “present” because it doesn’t want to take a stand, a usual tactic of the party.
Samaras in June directed the immediate closing of ERT and the firing of all of its 2,653 workers to satisfy the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up $325 billion in two bailouts.
The lenders want the government to pare its public workforce up to 40,000 employees over the next two years and have been squeezing Samaras to speed the pace of reforms before releasing another one billion euros ($1.37 billion) installment.
The loans have come with a series of brutal austerity measures that have created record unemployment and pushed 20 percent of the population into poverty without reducing the country’s staggering $430 billion debt.
The ERT workers had occupied the broadcast headquarters since June but the government wants to get a new station, NERIT, up and running early next year as Greece takes the symbolic rotating Presidency of the EU on Jan. 1 for six months.
A temporary replacement station, EDT, running with a number of former ERT workers, has largely been ignored by the public because it had been showing mostly old movies from 60 years ago and ancient documentaries before starting news programming recently.