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ATHENS – Greece’s lawmakers are to cast ballots in the first round of a crucial Presidential election that could see the government collapse if its nominee does not garner enough votes, pitting Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras against his arch-rival, the anti-austerity poll-leading major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA).

The vote comes amid stalled negotiations between bailed-out Greece and its international creditors, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is pushing the government to finish hundreds of undone reforms and close a hole in the 2015 budget of as much as three billion euros or more.

Samaras, breaking with tradition in which the ruling party offers a compromise candidate, has put up his own right-hand man and party Vice-President Stavros Dimas for the symbolic Presidency, a position with virtually no powers but whose selection has threatened the coalition that includes the fading PASOK Socialists.

Lawmakers will convene the night of Dec. 17 to cast ballots although Dimas is almost sure to fail to get the required 200 votes from the 300-member body as New Democracy has 127 Members of Parliament and PASOK has 28 for a total of 155.

If he loses, a second round will be held on Dec. 22 with the same threshold needed and then, if needed, a third and final balloting on Dec. 29 in which he would need to get 180 votes or snap national elections will be called for early next year.

It’s a crucial determination as SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has said he would seek to revise the harsh conditions that came with the bailouts or walk away from the debt, setting off jitters in the Eurozone, markets and among investors.

Samaras is hoping to convince Independent MPs and reluctant opponents to go along with him and is preaching that he must win to keep political instability and help a looming recovery.

He has warned a SYRIZA administration would bring chaos and collapse to the country, the same message he used to defeat the Leftists in the 2012 elections, drawing a rebuke from Tsipras that the Premier was a scaremonger.

Dimas is the only candidate, but to win he needs support from at least 25 independent or opposition lawmakers but so far than 10 have declared their support, including from the one-time coalition partner the Democratic Left (DIMAR) whose leader, Fotis Kouvelis, has freed to vote however they want although he’s opposed to the government now.

All of New Democracy and PASOK’s lawmakers must follow orders from their leaders, including Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, who was made Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister after backing worker firings, or they could be ejected. MPs are told how to vote and must obey.

The independent MPs Katerina Markou, Spyros Lykoudis, Grigoris Psarianos, Christos Aidonis, Giorgos Davris and Panayiotis Melas are also expected to vote for Dimas, taking the total to 161.

The government is hoping to get as many as 167 in the first round, hoping to lure more from DIMAR and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Panos Kamenos, a bitter Samaras enemy who is trying to keep his party in line. There is not an option to vote “No,” in the Presidential election leaving opponents to vote only “Present.”

A prosecutor ruled on Dec. 16 that the seven Golden Dawn MPs in pre-trial custody should be allowed to take part and all are expected to oppose Dimas. Former Golden Dawn lawmaker Stathis Boukouras, now an independent, will also be allowed to vote and he is wavering on whether he’ll go along with a member of New Democracy.

Venizelos, carrying the government’s line, pushed for stability. “Uncertainty as regards the country’s strategic direction provokes negative repercussions for the economy,” he said although PASOK has some sharp differences with Samaras.

Venizelos, trying to distance himself from the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings he supported, but which decimated support for him, said austerity endured by Greeks must not be in vain. “I will not allow… the achievements of the country and the sacrifices of the Greek people to go to waste,” without mentioning that it has hit only workers, pensioners and the poor while allowing politicians, the rich, and tax cheats to largely escape.

In the SYRIZA camp, officials avoided speculating on the number of MPs the coalition will garner. Some in SYRIZA said they believed the government has other potential supporters who will not reveal themselves until just before the second or third votes in the coming weeks to gain a sneak attack win.

Meanwhile SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis accused the government of having “a plan of pressuring, blackmailing and terrorizing Greek society in order to find the 180 [votes].”

The post Battle On: First Round of The Greek Presidential Election, Crucial Vote Set appeared first on The National Herald.

Source: The National Herald
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