ATHENS – Picking up votes ahead of a third and final round of balloting for Greek President on Dec. 29, Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras reportedly will ask rivals of back his choice – his party’s Vice-President Stavros Dimas – or prepare for early national elections.
Dimas got 168 votes in the 300-member Parliament on Dec. 23, far short of the 200 needed, but will need only 12 more in the last round, which has a threshold of 180 for election.
He got 160 votes in the first round on Dec. 17 and Samaras had offered Independent MPs and those opposed to his adminstration, which includes the PASOK Socialists, that he would call elections at the end of 2015 if they voted for Dimas. The newspaper Kathimerini said he will offer no other sweeteners and that it’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.
The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the tiny Independent Greeks (ANEL) have teamed in an effort to thwart Dimas. SYRIZA, which is leading in polls, wants early national elections and ANEL leader Panos Kammenos – whose claims one of his 12 lawmakers was offered a bribe to back Dimas was shot down by prosecutors – is a disgruntled former New Democracy member opposed to Samaras and the government’s support of austerity measures.
is expected to make one last public appeal to wavering MPs to back his presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas, but will not offer anything more in exchange than he already has, Kathimerini understands.
Samaras has to find another 12 votes to secure Dimas’s election in the third and final round on Monday after 168 MPs backed the candidate in Tuesday’s vote. Eight more independent lawmakers backed Dimas than in the first ballot but that still leaves the government needing support from Democratic Left (DIMAR) and Independent Greeks deputies.
Kathimerini understands that Samaras may make a public address on Sunday, as he did last Sunday, to repeat his offer of introducing independent and opposition MPs into his cabinet and holding elections toward the end of next year if Parliament elects a president on December 29.
After Tuesday’s vote, though, the premier took a tougher line with MPs who are so far refusing to back the government’s candidate. “The third ballot will not be one where they can just vote present,” he said. “There will be names and surnames. Each MP will have to face up to Greeks’ concerns and the country’s interests.”
It is thought that in his TV address, Samaras will highlight the possible negative consequences of failing to elect a president and going to snap elections. However, government sources said he will not set a specific date for snap elections next year as part of his compromise toward MPs who might switch their support at the last minute.
The government hopes to pick up the votes of Niki Founta, who quit DIMAR on Tuesday, as well as a couple of independents in the final round. However, coalition sources said there is an acceptance that the chances of drawing the seven to 10 votes needed from DIMAR and Independent Greeks are not strong.
In the ranks of SYRIZA, officials are all but certain that the government will be unable to garner the required 180 votes in the third presidential ballot and avert snap polls. Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s vote, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras declared that “neither Parliament nor the people will give Mr Samaras a mandate to continue with memorandums.” “In the new year, the country will turn a page, with democracy, with a strong popular mandate for real negotiation.”
The leftist opposition is now preparing for the government to intensify its rhetoric of the risks that a potential SYRIZA government will bring, sources said.
New Democracy and PASOK are also in pre-election mode, with the junior coalition partner facing a fresh headache due to the planned creation of a new party by former party leader and ex-Premier George Papandreou. A last-ditch attempt by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos to bring Papandreou back into the fold on Tuesday failed to lead anywhere.
Fears of protracted instability in Greece have grown in recent weeks, putting pressure on the country’s financial markets. On Dec. 23, the yield on Greece’s benchmark 10-year bond rose 0.10 percentage points, to 8.26 percent. At that level, Athens is effectively locked out of borrowing in international markets. The main stock market is also down 1.7 percent.
Investors think early elections could prompt a change in policy in Greece, which has only recently emerged from a severe six-year recession.
“Despite further attempts by SYRIZA’s leader to provide assurances that he is committed to keeping Greece in the euro and maintaining a balanced primary budget, investors remain concerned about the possibility of debt restructuring and an unwinding of austerity,” said Sarah Pemberton, European economist at Capital Economics.
Samaras urged opposition lawmakers to back Dimas, saying they hold the country’s interests in their hands. “I hope that in the third vote we will avoid the national danger, the tribulations that threaten the country,” he said. “(Then) every lawmaker will find themselves face to face with Greeks’ anxieties and … will assume their responsibility.”
SYRIZA isn’t buying it. “Neither Parliament nor the people will give Mr. Samaras a blank check, to continue with the bailout agreements, and impose … austerity measures that cut pensions, increase the price of medicines, and loot society,” Tsipras said.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)
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