ATHENS – Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on Jan. 13, after repeated waffling on what he would do, resigned over his objections to a deal that Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras made with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to rename that country North Macedonia.
Kammenos is leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition and said he would vote against the deal when it comes to Parliament but several of his other six lawmakers have balked and indicated they might support the agreement.
After meeting with Tsipras the morning of Jan. 13, he said, “The issue of Macedonia does not allow me not to sacrifice the office … I revoke my support for the government. The Independent Greeks are leaving the government,” he told reporters after the meeting.
FYROM’s Parliament ratified the deal on Jan. 11 and Tsipras said he has enough votes from rival parties to get it done without Kammenos and ANEL, whose seven votes, along with one alleged Independent, gave the government a scant three-vote majority in Parliament.
Tsipras had said he would seek to rule as a minority government if he couldn’t find another partner to replace ANEL.
Kammenos said said his remaining six lawmakers will vote against the Tsipras government if a no confidence motion is tabled, as expected in the coming period, in Parliament, but it was unclear whether they would as several, with a mutiny building, indicated they would support the FYROM name deal over his objections.
With elections this year, the move further undercut Tsipras who said he was confident he would win re-election despite polls showing he was far behind the party he unseated in January, 2015, the major rival New Democracy Conservatives.
Surveys have put Kammenos and ANEL at only around 1 percent support, far below the 3 percent needed to get back into Parliament with speculation some might try to jump to their ideological rivals SYRIZA, on the other end of the political spectrum, so they could come back without him.
Greece’s new Defense Minister will be chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, Tsipras announced, adding that the government will seek to renew its mandate by immediately asking for a vote of confidence from Parliament.
A motion of confidence submitted by the government can, in theory, be passed with as few as 120 votes in the 300-member Parliament, if enough lawmakers abstain, noted Kathimerini.
Tsipras said his government will forge ahead. “I could have found ad hoc majorities for each issue, but … I do not play it safe,” he added.