ATHENS – After ripping Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis for nominating Katerina Sakellaropoulou – one of the country’s highest ranking judges – to be Greece’s first President, major opposition Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras backed her.
She is the head of the country’s top administrative court, the Council of State, and has a center-left leaning but Tsipras initially fiercely fought back, saying he wanted another term for the incumbent, New Democracy veteran Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who was SYRIZA’s nominee when Tsipras took office in January, 2015, the office traditionally going to a political rival or neutral candidate to get enough votes in Parliament for ratification.
Election of a President requires 200 votes if two rounds are voting are needed and with New Democracy having a majority of 158 he needed at least 42 more from rival parties, with SYRIZA’s 86-delegation bloc essentially insuring her election in a vote set for Jan. 22.
SYRIZA’s support means Mitsotakis will avoid the dilemma that brought down a New Democracy-led coalition in January, 2015 when then-Premier Antonis Samaras nominated his party’s own Vice-President, which was rejected by SYRIZA, leaving the government without enough votes to elect a candidate, triggering a snap election that ousted New Democracy.
After reports that some in SYRIZA were upset that Tsipras wouldn’t go along with Sakellaropoulou, he quicky rolled back his opposition, saying that supporting her is now an “act of responsibility” by his party.
“We will give an opportunity to the new President of the Republic to be elected by a large majority, as it is required for anyone who assumes the heavy responsibility…to express the unity of our people and our democracy for the next five years,” he said in a televised address.
“Our positive vote to Katerina Sakellaropoulou is not a PR stunt but a conscious choice, because it is linked, not only to the responsible stance we always take towards the institutions, but also to our values,” he added.
SYRIZA had been accused of trying to meddle in the judiciary during its 4 1/2-year reign that ended when Mitsotakis and New Democracy won July 7, 2019 snap elections – his former altnerate justice minister is being probed for allegations of trying to bring down rival politicians by claiming they took bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.
He praised Sakellaropoulou for “vigorously serving justice” and “protecting individual rights and the religious neutrality of the state,” although late in his term Tsipras made a move to separate Church and State.
But he took a swipe at Mitsotakis at the same time, saying the Premier had made a “major mistake” for not renaming Pavlopoulos, who Tsipras said had been a successful President despite being with New Democracy, SYRIZA’ political enemy.
Later, she also got the support of the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) that has 22 votes in Parliament, making her election a certainty, although opposed by the tiny 15-member KKE Communist bloc that traditionally goes against Presidential nominations.
KKE accused Mitsotakis of picking the head of the country’s top administrative court, the Council of State to satisfy SYRIZA, even though the Leftists were initially unhappy and preferred Pavlopoulos, a political opposite.
There was no initial reaction from the marginal MeRA25 of former SYRIZA finance chief Yanis Varoufakis, who has had little impact in Parliament since getting his tiny group elected in July 7, 2019 snap elections.
Before Tsipras said he would go along with her, if reluctantly, sources in SYRIZA not identified told Kathimerini that Mitsotakis was “cheapening” the institution of the presidency by using it as PR stunt to divert attention from “the fiasco on Libya and migration.”
That was in reference to a decision by Germany to bar Greece for a key European Union meeting about Libya in Berlin even though Turkey and Libya signed a maritime deal dividing the waters between them, including near Greek islands, and SYRIZA criticism of New Democracy reinstating a migration ministry the Leftists eliminated while ruling.