SHAFAQNA – The prospect of snap general elections and a renewed euro crisis loomed closer in Greece last night after the country’s centre-right coalition failed in a first round to gain the election of a new national president.
Antonis Samaras and his conservative-led coalition failed to muster the necessary 200-strong majority for Stavros Dimas, their nominee, sending the election into two more likely rounds, ending on December 29.
Although the presidency itself is largely ceremonial, the consequences of a government defeat in all three rounds, would force Mr Samaras to call an election. That would trigger renewed uncertainty over Greece’s place in the euro and the fate of the pan-EU currency because the opinion polls show that the anti-austerity Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras in the lead.
Mr Tsipras is committed to abandoning the severe deficit-cutting that was imposed on Greece by Brussels and its creditors in return for its billions of bailout funds.
The outcome of the presidential vote could hang on the vote of independents and smaller parties who have rejected the coalition which combines Mr Samaras’s New Democracy and Pasok, the Socialists, who were in power when the Greek economy almost collapsed in 2009.
Mr Samaras, whose coalition has 155 deputies in parliament, must secure at least 25 votes from other groups for the necessary super majority. Late on Tuesday, a supreme court prosecutor granted special prison leave for seven MPs from the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party who have been jailed pending trial on charges arising from the murder of a leftist-musician last year.
Evangelos Venizelos, the Pasok leader and deputy prime minister, appeared to open the door wider to the possibility of a fresh national vote yesterday, telling partliament: “We are ready for elections but up until the last minute, until December 29, we will keep hoping that a sense of responsibility prevails.”
The Prime Minister issued a statement saying that the vote was not about his government but about defending the constitution and respecting the office of president. “It is also to avoid a political adventure that could prove fatal for the country’s European course,” it said. Mr Samaras has warned of a “catastrophic” return to the height of Greece’s debt crisis.
Syriza has accused him of scaremongering, a charge that it also levelled against Pierre Moscovici, the new European commissioner for the euro, who visited Athens this week and warned Greeks of the danger of making an “unwise” vote for an anti-bail-out government.
The possibility of another Greek upheaval has unsettled European leaders who are already worried about turbulence washing across the continent from the troubled Russian economy. Mr Samaras is to brief fellow EU leaders at the year-end Brussels summit today.
News of the sudden presidential vote last week sent Greek stocks plunging 20 per cent, the steepest loss since 1987. Ten-year bond yields soared nearly 9 per cent, around the same level they stood in April 2010 when Greece signed up to its first of two 240 billion euro rescue loans.
“If investors see that Samaras is nowhere near collecting the support he needs for his candidate in the first round of voting then expect them to unload another wave of Greek stocks, and even more if the vote fails him entirely,” said Andreas Koutras, local director of ITC Markets, a financial information agency.