Europe was again looking towards Greece. The markets are febrile, the Athens Stock Exchange plunged. On Wednesday, December 17 the first round of voting by members of the president were to be held. The ballot is high risk because if the government candidate, former Conservative European Commissioner Stavros Dimas, fails to be elected at the end of the third round, scheduled on December 29, there will be dissolution of the Assembly. And early parliamentary from which the radical left Syriza party – in the polls – could emerge victorious.
The context. Ballot. Early elections
The President of the Hellenic Republic is elected by the members for a term of five years. His role is largely ceremonial. He has to get 200 votes in the first two ballots and 180 in the third of the 300 members of the assembly. The three rounds are planned on 17, 23 and 29 December.
If the government candidate fails to be elected by the members at the end of three rounds, there will dissolve the Assembly and call for early elections to be held no earlier than February 1.
In the ranks of Syriza, a climate of pre-campaign kingdom reigns. Its president, Alexis Tsipras, is ready to take the reins of the country and promises the release memoranda, agreements governing these major reforms imposed on Greece in return for 240 billion euros in loans since 2010. Minimum wage increase, moratorium on private debt to banks, cancellation of nearly two-thirds of the public debt and increased government spending: Syriza program clearly conflicts with the objectives set by the creditors of Greece.
Brussels did not hesitate to intervene in the debate. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, supported the candidate of Mr Samaras, explaining that he wanted to “see familiar faces in January.” It is in this tense context that the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, arrived Monday, December 15 in Greece for a two-day visit. Mr Moscovici has come to “welcome the progress made by Greece” and “defend the structural reforms.” As for “the idea to consider not repay a huge debt”, it is “suicidal”. No meetings are scheduled with Mr Tsipras.
With Brussels, however, it puts certain risks. “Whether the president is appointed by the end of December and the government will have time to finish the job with the troika [International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission] – that is to say, to agree on reforms to get the last instalment. Whether there are early elections and the new government that will emerge will also be required to complete the job,” says a Brussels source. The parliamentary elections could be held in February.
Even if Syriza wins at the end of the legislative elections, panic does not seem appropriate. “First, they cannot govern alone. And even if the political situation had to unscrew the markets, the situation on the financial plan has nothing to do with that of two years ago. But one should certainly be more afraid of contagion to other countries,” says a senior source in Brussels.
In Athens, the government rebuilt its calculations to avoid another election. The current majority has only 155 votes. Syriza (71 seats), the Communist Party KKE (12), sovereignists Independent Greeks (12) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party (16) said they would not vote for Mr Dimas. The Prime Minister has begun negotiations with the large 24 independent members – often former Greek Socialist Party (PASOK). Only ten of them said for now ready to vote for Mr Dimas.
To achieve the 180 votes needed, Samaras must also convince the 10 members of the small party of the Democratic Left (Dimar), which, for now, are officially opposed to Mr Dimas. “Samaras is trying to put pressure on MPs reminding them that early elections would mean for many of them lost their seats while Syriza is always given winner in the polls. After the first two rounds, Samaras can still get out of his sleeve a joker and propose a new candidate most likely to appeal to Dimar a personality after the center left,” says political analyst Elias Nikolakopoulos. The name of the former European Commissioner appointed by the Socialists, Maria Damanaki, is often mentioned.
The candidate of the ruling coalition, Stavros Dimas, has obtained the first round with 160 votes among the 300 deputies instead of the required 200. Two new towers are still possible before you call new general elections.
Big disappointment awaiteed the Greek government on Wednesday, December 17 evening in Athens. Only 160 of the 300 deputies in the Greek parliament voted in favor of its candidate for President of the Republic, Stavros Dimas, in the first round of a closely watched by the European Union election. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hoped to collect at least 165. The 155 MPs from both parties in the government coalition, the conservative New Democracy (ND) and the socialist PASOK and only 5 independent members voted yes. Aside from 5 abstentions, all the other 135 MPs voted “no.”
To be elected, Stavros Dimas must collect at least 180 votes in the third and final round of 29 December. He therefore lacks a majority 20 votes and it seems very difficult for Mr Samaras to rally as many members in the next fortnight, while intense negotiations are held in hand for several weeks now. If the Prime Minister was “optimistic” at the exit of the vote by saying that a president would come out of this parliament, he referred members to their responsibilities not to “push the country into chaos.”
For most other political leaders, this result opens the way for early elections. For if the parliament does not happen, after three rounds, then president to designate the assembly will be dissolved and legislation will take place. “This is for the Greek people to decide that now,” said Alexis Tsipras, president of the radical left Syriza. “Obviously this result means elections” went further Panos Kamenos of the Greek party Independents. Fotis Kouvelis, the leader of the Democratic Left, whose ten deputies may well be crucial in the next two rounds, considered that this result also seemed “open the way for new elections.”
Of all the television channels of the country, the Syriza MPs have begun a campaign speech, hammering at each occurrence the three major points of their party program: to renegotiate the debt, finish with memoranda and apply the economic program Syriza economic recovery. Within the coalition government, if a hard core of loyal Prime Minister says there will be no middle ground and that it “the Chairman elections it will be,” MPs – including PASOK- call to new alternative proposals before the next round to be held on December 23 at 12 o’clock.
Resignation: new candidate or compromise?
Several theories are circulating, ranging from the appointment of a new candidate for president’s resignation – unlikely – the Prime Minister by the way – is the most discussed event – a compromise solution proposed by eight independent members: agree on the appointment of the President and promise SYRIZA parliamentary next spring. The objective is to finish by the end of January, with the troika mission control (International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank commission) in the country, out of the two-month extension of the aid plan imposed by the country’s creditors up to the end of February. Unlock and nearly 7 billion euros in loans pending IMF and Europeans that would include dealing with scheduled repayments of current bonds in March and once exceeded these levels, activate the emergency credit line that Brussels promised to help the country cope with the financial hole of its 2015 budget.
Being winner in the polls in case of early parliamentary and therefore in a strong position, Syriza has already warned that it would not accept such a compromise, although neither Brussels nor markets see favorably its eventual arrival in power. The next fifteen days in Greece will be those of big moves. Safe for unexpected pronunciation of Samaras, it is now December 29 that will seal the future of the country.