ATHENS – With a final crucial vote in Parliament on Dec. 29, Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras made another effort to convince reluctant lawmakers to back his man and party Vice-President Stavros Dimas or face economic collapse.
In an interview on state TV NERIT, (http://www.nerit.gr/) Samaras said there would be “pointless upheaval” if they didn’t go along with his party’s Vice-President Stavros Dimas as the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is trying to thwart him and force early national elections with polls showing the anti-austerity rivals leading.
When a threshold of 200 votes in the 300-member Parliament was needed, Dimas got 160 votes in a first round and 168 in a second.
The last vote requires 180 and if it fails then Samaras will have to call national elections, likely for late January or February as his government is locked in tense negotiations with international creditors over unfinished reforms and how to close a hole of up to three billion euros in the 2015 budget.
Needing 12 votes and with so much at stake as his coalition, that includes the PASOK Socialists, has only 155 votes, Samaras appealed to fence-sitters to support him as he courts Independent Members of Parliament and those from parties opposed to the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings he imposed on orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which put up 240 billion euros ($306) in two bailouts.
Samaras said failure to elect his man as the country’s symbolic President would be tantamount to “political blackmail” the same language SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras used about the Premier who warned a Leftist government would create a run on the banks and push Greece out of the Eurozone and into collapse.
In the first two rounds, MPs opposed to Dimas cast votes as “Present,” but Samaras said this time he wants them to state their position as they are named instead of hiding behind a Parliamentary procedure.
He said those who vote “Present” in the ballot at noon on Dec. 29 would be “burdened with the responsibility” and would be “remembered by the people and chiefly by history.”
Citing a narrowing of leftist SYRIZA’s lead over New Democracy in opinion polls, Samaras said that early elections “suit me” but he would rather “lead the ship safely to harbor.”
He again lambasted SYRIZA for demanding snap polls, saying most citizens did not want elections, and warning of “fatal perils” that could bring to Greece and the Eurozone.
He accused SYRIZA of “foolish bravado,” adding that the party’s alternative economic program was full of “unilateral moves,” including trying to revise the terms of the bailouts or walking away from the debt, which would leave Greece broke and unable to borrow from the markets.
The premier said authorities have “sweat blood” in recent years to keep Greece on its feet and warned against years of sacrifices being lost although his government has mostly hammered workers, pensioners and the poor while letting the rich and tax cheats largely escape.
He repeated his calls for a consensus on the President, negotiations on Greece’s debt and early elections at the end of 2015 if MPs back Dimas as it seemed the final dozen votes might not be attainable.
In an article in the party’s mouthpiece Avgi to be published Dec. 28, Tsipras said he would not negotiate its economic program with the Troika.
SYRIZA’s national effort will have international repercussions as our historic responsibility is to open the way for an alternative policy in Europe, transforming a Eurozone country from the subject of a neo-liberalist experiment to a model for social protection and growth,” he said.
But in a separate interview in the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, SYRIZA MP Giorgos Stathakis, one of its economic advisers, said the Leftists, if elected would seek “a comprehensive renegotiation of the debt, without unilateral action.”
With early elections looming, political parties are preparing campaigns and candidate lists with PASOK in upheaval as former party leader and ex-Premier George Papandreou is expected to announce a new party next week.
John Milios, SYRIZA’s economic chief, said the party won’t run deficits. “Fiscal consolidation? Of course, yes, but in our way,” he told the Associated Press.
Milios appeared certain Greece is headed for early elections that he said would result in a SYRIZA majority although polls show the party would not get an outright majority in the Parliament and need to form a coalition as well.
But backing away from Tsipras pledges to restore salaries and cut taxes to pre-austerity levels, Milios said that can’t happen but that the party would seek to help the neediest first. He also said the party wants to keep Greece in the Eurozone which can’t happen if it defaults.