ATHENS – After waffling for days over what it would do, the tiny To Potami centrists said they would give their five votes in Parliament to back a deal Greece made to change the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
But the party, which has nearly evaporated after starting out to much notice in 2014 and had opposed Tsipras and his ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, said its stance was part of what its leader, former TV journalist Stavros Theodorakis had called an history duty.
To Potami wanted to end confusion regarding whether it will back the minority government which now relies on alleged Independents and rival party dissidents to stay in power after its former coalition partner, the tiny Independent Greeks (ANEL) quit in objection to the deal giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.
The agreement would see FYROM be called North Macedonia and its residents called Macedonians and with a Macedonian language, culture and identity, the deal opposed by 70 percent of Greeks in a recent survey and setting off fury among opponents.
With less than 1 percent support in recent polls showing it has virtually no chance to reach the 3 percent threshold needed to get back into Parliament in elections this year, the support for the FYROM deal is likely To Potami’s swan song before vanishing.
To Potami (The River) stressed that it will vote in favor of the accord, but “for Greece and not for the collapsing Tsipras,” who nevertheless now seems certain to get what he wants and former To Potami lawmaker backed him in a vote of confidence before Theodorakis ejected him.
“There are those that are making Potami’s positive stance to the Prespes agreement appear as support for Mr Tsipras. They are making a big mistake… To Potami only supports the interests of the Greeks,” the party said, referring to the deal by the name of Lake Prespes, which borders both countries and where it was signed.
The change of heart came as reports said two of To Potami’s five MP’s would vote against the agreement, which would have put Theodorakis in the dilemma of whether to give the other three votes and to eject the two dissidents, which could end the party as Parliament rules require at least five MP’s for a parliamentary committee.
The announcement came a day after To Potami put out a vague statement that said, “Our movement remains firm in the decision of its conference that the problem with FYROM must be resolved and Greece must play a leading role in opening the European path to the neighboring country,” after a meeting of its political council which was also attended by Potami’s MEPs and other party bodies.
“When it comes to national issues, Potami doesn’t form its position based on party interest, neither does it change its views depending on the ups and downs of any given time. We have stable principles, we don’t have ideological obsessions and we don’t act impulsively,” it added.
The centrist party has five seats in the 300-seat House, leaving the government one vote short of an absolute majority although Tsipras can likely count on from three to six alleged Independents, including two booted from ANEL after backing him in a vote of confidence.
POLITICAL HOT POTATO
The agreement the anti-nationalist Tsipras reached with FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev, to end a 27-year-old name dispute, would see FYROM called North Macedonia and lift Greek vetoes keeping the country out of NATO and from opening European Union accession talks.
With the latest survey showing 70 percent of Greeks opposed, and uncertainty over whether the rally Jan. 20 outside the Parliament won’t turn violent, Tsipras authorized the printing of scores of thousands of documents with the full text of the deal to be distributed in Sunday newspapers.
Hoping to persuade voters to back the deal most don’t, he also said he would not “fast track” the agreement in a bid to ram it through Parliament as a way of piggybacking support from former rival politicians whose backing helped him narrowly survive a vote of confidence he called after ANEL leader and former Defense Minister Panos Kammenos pulled ANEL from the coalition.
The documents will come out the same day as what could be a massive protest rally will be held in Syntagma Square across the Parliament which could be volatile given the anger at the deal from ultra-nationalists such as the Golden Dawn party whose 15 lawmakers and dozens of members are in the fourth year of a trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
ONE ON ONE
The main opposition New Democracy said it would oppose the agreement even though giving away Macedonia’s name was first done in 1991 by then-Premier and party leader Constantinos Mitsotakis – whose son Kyriakos now leads the Conservatives.
In the debate ahead of the confidence vote, Mitsotakis said the deal made too many concessions, as it allows residents of what would be North Macedonia to say they have a Macedonian culture, language and identity.
FYROM’s Parliament approved the deal and changed the country’s constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greek territories, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
Tsipras’ office threw down the gauntlet, challenging Mitsotakis to take on the Premier in a televised debate over the FYROM deal but there was no immediate response.
Meanwhile, with Tsipras also moving for separation of Church and State, the Holy Community of Mount Athos, which represents a cluster of historic monasteries and one of Orthodoxy’s holiest sites in Halkidiki, northern Greece, said it wants a referendum on the name deal.
In an announcement, the Holy Community said that it considers the agreement’s “recognition of a ‘Macedonian language’ and a ‘Macedonian ethnicity’ as disregarding history and truth.”
The body that represents Mount Athos also said its members and supporters are expected to join the protest rally with a vote on the agreement likely to come to Parliament early next week.