Election looms in Greece after government fails to win key vote

IMF suspends bailout negotiations with country until new administration formed


Greeks are set to return to the polls on January 25th for the fourth time in just over five years following the government’s failure on Monday to garner enough support from MPs for its candidate for the office of president.

Although the threshold for electing a new head of state had dropped from 200 to 180 votes in what was the last of three parliamentary ballots, prime minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition government only mustered the support of 168 of the parliament’s 300 deputies for its presidential candidate, former EU commissioner Stavros Dimas, in a widely anticipated outcome.

The government’s hope that it could win more support from MPs on the independent benches or from the minor parties of Democratic Left and Independent Greeks failed to materialise, meaning the result mirrored the outcome of the second attempt to select a president on December 23rd.

Following the result, Mr Samaras announced he would request the president to dissolve the parliament and call elections for January 25th, the earliest possible date allowed under the constitution.

“Victory will be ours . . . The people will not allow their sacrifices to go to waste,” said Mr Samaras, appearing confident despite months of opinion polls pointing to main left-wing opposition party Syriza winning any new election.

“We did all we could to elect a president and avoid snap elections that the vast majority of Greeks don’t want,” he said. “Unfortunately, a minority of 132 MPs, which included those from Syriza and Golden Dawn, are dragging the country into elections. It is time for democracy and responsibility, not lies, populism and political terrorism.”

Mr Samaras’s languagehas come to characterise Greek political debate in recent times and is bound to intensify as the election date approaches.

Verbal attacks

In his reaction to the presidential vote, the Syriza leader, whose party is expected to campaign for an agreed solution to the problem of the country’s debt, said Greece had witnessed an historic day.

“MPs from democratic opposition parties have proved that democracy cannot be blackmailed despite pressures or even conspiracies,” said Alexis Tsipras.

“The government of Mr Samaras, which has plundered society for 2½ years and has already committed itself to take new measures, is a thing of the past. With the will of our people, the austerity memorandums will also be a thing of the past in a few days,” he said, referring to the country’s bailout agreements with the EU-IMF troika.

Speaking later at a party rally, Mr Tsipras assured his supporters that a Syriza government would protect Greeks’ bank deposits in an attempt to allay fears that his government would put people’s wealth at risk.

Political uncertainty

Although the presidential election was due to take place in February, Mr Samaras moved the date forward by almost two months in a gamble to end political uncertainty and to give him the political room to negotiate an end to the country’s bailout. This was extended to the end of February amid a budget row between Athens and the troika.

Those negotiations will now certainly be left to the winner of the January 25th election to continue.

Following the vote, one of those lenders, the IMF, said it was suspending its discussions with Greece until a new government was formed.

“Discussions with the Greek authorities on the completion of the sixth review of the programme that is being supported by an extended arrangement will resume once a new government is in place, in consultation with the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Greece faces no immediate financing needs,” said IMF spokesman Gerry Rice.