Coalition sees narrow win in vote on measures

Party leaders try to win round defectors ahead of Parliament decision on austerity package

With a 17-billion-euro austerity and reform package going to a crucial vote in Parliament tonight that will determine whether or not Greece clinches vital rescue loans, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his aides on Tuesday gave a last push to ensure that the fragile coalition manages to pass the painful new measures into law.

Samaras and his aides were reportedly focusing on winning round the lawmakers of his conservative New Democracy party who have yet to publicly state their intentions ahead of the vote, which is expected at around midnight.

Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos reportedly spoke several times on Tuesday in a bid to ensure that the two ?no? votes expected from the Socialist camp would not grow to four or five and that the coalition?s majority would not drop below 154 in the 300-seat House. PASOK sources indicated that between 27 and 29 of the party?s MPs would vote against the measures. Costas Skandalidis, Theodoros Parastatidis and Markos Bolaris are anticipated defectors unlikely to change their minds. Still, Venizelos reportedly continued meetings with skeptical MPs.

In a meeting on Monday night, Democratic Left?s central committee agreed to vote ?present? at the vote, though some MPs might waver from the party line and vote ?yes? or ?no.?

Despite irritation in the premier?s office at Democratic Left?s stance, there was said to be relief at the success of party leader Fotis Kouvelis in convincing Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis to sign the multi-bill. Roupakiotis?s reluctance to do so nearly caused a government crisis on Monday, prompting the intervention of Kouvelis, who won round Roupakiotis but only after several hours of tense talks and a warning by Samaras that he would be replaced if he did not sign.

Reports that Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis had refused to sign the bill were rebuffed by the minister.

In Parliament on Tuesday there was tension during a debate on the package at the committee level. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras insisted ?there is no alternative but voting for the measures? and accused opposition parties of wanting ?to turn Greece into North Korea.? MPs from the main leftist opposition party SYRIZA protested against ?the dictatorship of the memorandum? and ?social genocide.?

Despite the vehement opposition to the measures, with some 30,000 people joining anti-austerity rallies in Athens on Tuesday and a larger crowd anticipated tonight ahead of the vote, the conservative-led government believes the package will squeak through, sources told Kathimerini. Samaras was said to be buoyed by the comments of European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn that foreign lenders are on track to issue a positive decision on the release of a 31.5-billion-euro loan tranche to Greece at a Eurogroup summit on November 12. However Samaras?s office has heard from other sources that a decision on the release of the funding might be put off.