ATHENS – In full campaign mode and with the Greek stock markets tumbling ahead of a crucial election for Greek President that could see the government fall and early national elections called, Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras said the poll-leading major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is causing panic and scaring off investors.
Speaking to a trade conference as the stock exchange continued to fall with fears over political instability, Samaras said SYRIZA was provoking “terror” and insisted that Greeks do not want early elections, although he called them, and said that voters will hammer the Leftists and repudiate them if polls are called.
That will depend on whether Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader can get Stavros Dimas, the candidate for his coalition government – which includes the PASOK Socialists – elected as the country’s symbolic President in a process that begins Dec. 17. The first round, and second, require a candidate get 200 of the 300 Members of Parliament in support but the coalition has only 155 combined.
A third round, if required, would take place on Dec. 29 and the super-majority would be reduced to 180. If that also fails, early national elections would be called, likely at the end of January or in early February.
The election had been set for February but Samaras moved it up ahead with the government locked in a stalemate with its international lenders over unfinished reforms and a dispute over whether the 2015 budget has gap of up to three billion euros. Samaras had the Parliament he controls rubber stamp the budget over Troika objections.
But that also ended his hopes of taking an early exit from the harsh terms of two bailouts of 240 billion euros ($306 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that forced him to impose big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that decimated support for the government and elevated the anti-austerity Leftists.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said if he comes to power that he would seek to revise the terms of the two rescue packages or walk away from the debt while at the same time restoring pay cuts and pensions to previous levels, rehire fired workers, cut taxes and end privatization, which Samaras said would stop a looming recovery and likely leave Greece broke, pushed out of the Eurozone, and the markets in collapse.
“We do not have to say anything; the terror they cause speaks for itself,” Samaras said of the SYRIZA, using a buzz word tied to the Leftists who have been accused of harboring terrorist sympathies among their motley collection of Maoists, Communists, Anarchists in a diverse constituency.
“They are trying to interrupt the country’s progress with the threat of early elections, using the Presidential election as their vehicle and thereby going against the Constitution’s spirit,” he said. “Some people have been creating concern abroad about political instability and uncertainty.”
Samaras insisted that the majority of Greeks want a President to be elected by Parliament and do not want snap elections although some surveys show that voters want to elect the President.
“Citizens do not want elections and markets do not want elections,” he said. The process though is heavily politicized and Samaras’ candidate – Dimas – is New Democracy’s Vice-President. Traditionally, a ruling party would put up a compromise candidate as then Premier and previous New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis did in 2004 by picking PASOK’s Karolos Papoulias.
Samaras and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras will clash one last time ahead of the first ballot on December 17, when they are both due to speak in Parliament a day earlier.
Speaking at a meeting of SYRIZA’s political secretariat, Tsipras said there was no chance that Dimas would win. Sources told Kathimerini that the government hopes that in the first round of voting it will improve on its 155 seats and that there will be enough blank votes or abstentions to suggest that a victory in the final ballot on December 29 will be possible.
Before the advanced date was set – and before Dimas was announced as the candidate – a dozen Independent and opposition lawmakers said they would likely vote for the government’s man but the Democratic Left (DIMAR) that had served in the coalition backed away after Samaras hand picked one of his own men.
In Brussels, a European Commission spokeswoman welcomed the choice of Dimas as Greece’s Presidential candidate. “The selection of Stavros Dimas sends a strong message to Europe as he is a former commissioner and a committed European,” said Annika Breidthardt. Dimas is a previous European Commissioner.