ATHENS – With his New Democracy Conservatives slipping further behind the anti-austerity major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA,) Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is planning to offer changes to the country’s Constitution, likely including eliminating a 50-seat bonus in Parliament for the winners of national elections.
With SYRIZA upping its lead, if the Leftists force national elections early next year by blocking election of a Greek President, they could then lose the additional bonus given to New Democracy and PASOK administrations over the last four decades and leave the political system in an ungovernable mess.
Kathimerini said Samaras is planning the changes after envoys from the country’s international lenders finish their upcoming evaluation of the country’s lack of progress in finishing hundreds of undone reforms.
The government believes that the promise of major constitutional changes could help sway some of the 180 MPs it needs to elect Papoulias’s successor. New Democracy has only 126 seats and its coalition partner the PASOK Socialists have 28 for a total of 154, far short of what’s needed to elect someone to the largely ceremonial position.
Failure to elect a President would force early elections more than a year before the ruling parties’ term runs out. New Democracy and PASOK have imposed pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings on orders of its its lenders, decimating support for the parties.
Among the changes being considered are for the President to be elected by voters rather than Parliament, thereby putting an end to the threat of opposition parties forcing elections every five years if the government cannot muster the required votes to elect a new head of state. Also, the coalition is considering enhancing the president’s powers.
Speaking to New Democracy members who gathered in Halkidiki, northern Greece, on Sept. 27th to celebrate the party’s 40th anniversary, Samaras focused on Greece being close to a return to growth and exiting its bailout agreement with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
New Democracy reportedly will in the comiong weeks focus on the issue of who is best placed to lead Greece into the post-memorandum era, as the possibility of early elections looms.
“I am not tired,” Samaras told his audience. “I know they handed me a hand grenade [when I came to office] but I have defused it now.”
He also assailed SYRIZA, accusing the opposition party of being dangerous. “They fanaticize some people but they frighten many more,” he said, accusing the leftists of making promises of handouts in order to hide plans to increase taxes if they come to power.