Greece prepares for snap elections

Syriza's Alexis Tsipras. Greece's next prime minister? [Joanna/flickr]

In a sudden move and under pressure from international lenders, Greek PM Antonis Samaras decided yesterday to hold elections on 17 December, with a new wave of political instability expected to hit the country. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Normally the presidential election should be held in March, but the coalition government of centre-right New Democracy and centre-left Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) decided to accelerate the procedure for political reasons.

The negotiations with the troika for its last assessment have reached a deadlock, despite the fact that Greece now has the highest primary surplus in the euro area after Germany, according to Eurostat.

Early on Monday (8 December) the Greek parliament approved the first balanced budget in decades. The same day, Eurozone finance ministers agreed to extend Greece’s bailout programme by two months, in an attempt by international lenders and the Greek government to buy time.  Further budget cuts will have to be decided after the end of the bailout, scheduled for the end of this year.

>>Read: Greek PM names former EU commissioner as presidential nominee

The government attributed the sudden decision for presidential election to the main opposition Syriza’s alleged efforts to provoke political instability with the negotiations with the Troika- IMF, European Commission, European Central Bank.

“The government cannot accept this open undermining. This political uncertainty must end immediately,” said government spokesperson, Sofia Voultepsi.

According to latest figures, leftist Syriza is steadily leading all the polls, and it would be in its interests to hold snap general elections.   

Fragile balance

The balance in the Greek parliament makes the election of a new president quite complicated.

According to the Greek Constitution, the first two voting procedures require 200 votes in the 300-seat parliament for the election of a new president.

As 200 votes seem quite difficult to gather taking into account the current balance of political forces, in the third and final voting procedure 180 votes are needed. In case the presidential candidate does not receive 180 votes, the parliament is dismantled and snap general elections are called.

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Currently, the coalition government is supported by a total of 155 MPs. There are 24 independent MPs, who are considered as key factor for the final result of the election. Up until now, they have not shown any coherent stance on crucial issues.

The right-wing party “Independent Greeks” has 12 MPs but its leader, former New Democracy MP Panos Kammenos, has categorically stated that his party would not consent to the election of a new president.

The former junior coalition partner, Democratic Left, currently has 10 MPs, and its stance on the issue is unpredictable.

Leftist main opposition Syriza (71 MPs) which has been calling for early general elections for months now, believes that the government cannot find 180 votes for the election of a new president. 

Communists and neo-Nazi Golden Dawn have 12 and 16 MPs respectively, and it is unlikely that they will support any candidate for president.

New tough measures?

According to analysts in Athens, the Greek government decided to accelerate the presidential election because the negotiations with the Troika were stuck, and new austerity measures would be needed after the end of the bailout at the end of the year.

Opposition Syriza has promised to give an end to the austerity-driven policy if it wins the elections, provoking uncertainty to international lenders.

>>Read: Greece tells Merkel it can exit bailout early

Syriza MEP Giorgos Katrougkalos recently told EURACTIV Greece that international lenders will attempt to impose “economic suffocation” on Greece.

“I am afraid that when Syriza is in government, they will try to impose a peculiar political and economic suffocation in Greece , aiming at proving that there is no alternative policy to the neoliberal one,” he said.

International lenders believe that Greece has not made yet crucial structural reforms, such as the opening of some closed professions, and reached privatisation targets.

In an interview with EURACTIV Greece, centre-right New Democracy MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos, shared a similar view.

“Despite being a government MEP, let me say that Greece does not fully implement the memorandum,” he had stated, referring to the scheduled dismissals in the public sector that never took place.

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