Coalition Tabs Kouvelis For President

ATHENS – Outflanking his main rival, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ coalition government will reportedly nominate Democratic Left (DIMAR) leader Fotis Kouvelis to be President next year.

Kouvelis, who was a member of the government that still includes the PASOK Socialists, walked out last year in a huff over public worker firings and his party has fallen below the 3 percent threshold needed to enter Parliament in the next elections if the current polls hold.

But he’s also a former leader of a segment of the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) which has threatened to block any coalition candidate for the ceremonial position.

The government has only 152 seats in the 300-member Parliament but needs 180 to get Kouvelis through. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras now could be stymied by the choice as his party would have to oppose one of its former stalwarts.

If a President is not elected by the Parliament, it would require formation of a new Parliament through snap elections before the ruling parties’ term runs out in 2016, making the position politically critical and subject to maneuvering.

Kouvelis, 65, is a founding member of Greece’s Communist party although SYRIZA has also blasted him for bringing DIMAR under Samaras’ wing and for supporting harsh austerity measures imposed on orders of international lenders.

He is widely seen as someone who doesn’t like to make waves and has largely disappeared from the political landscape since leaving the coalition after he disagreed with the firing of all 2,653 workers of the now-defunct national broadcaster ERT.

Kathimerini said Samaras has turned to Kouvelis as a way to get the super-majority needed to gain the Presidency for the government’s candidate and block SYRIZA. If elected, Kouvelis would then be faced with supporting the measures he opposed after first going along with them.

DIMAR gained just 1.2 percent of the vote in the May elections for the European Parliament among Greeks and is on the verge of becoming extinct.

The government reportedly believes he could be a compromise candidate and take the wind out of the sails of SYRIZA opposition to any candidate.

There wasn’t any word on whether Kouvelis would accept the nomination although if Greece gets debt relief from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) it could make it easier for him to again back the government from which he broke.

President Karolos Papoulias’ term runs out in February, 2015. The position traditionally has been seen as a compromise choice between parties with a candidate not directly aligned with the ruling government but expected to support it, as Papoulias did.

He was a founding member of PASOK, which has a minor role in the government after its leader, Evangelos Venizelos, agreed to give his 27 votes to New Democracy’s 125 so that the coalition has a majority in Parliament. For supporting big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings, Venizelos was named Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister.