A day after calling for a referendum on whether Greece should adopt the debt deal it agreed with its eurozone partners last week, Prime Minister George Papandreou faced a fight for his political survival as he came under intense pressure from within his own party and from opposition politicians to ditch the idea and call snap elections or form a coalition government.
Papandreou met with the Cabinet on Tuesday night to discuss his decision to demand a referendum, an initiative that even Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos was in the dark about, according to sources close to him. Venizelos was hospitalized early on Tuesday with suspected appendicitis. The meeting went on late into the night but Papandreou is thought to have told his ministers that he would not back down from his referendum proposal and a planned vote of confidence in Parliament on Friday.
The prime minister appears to have challenged the ministers who disagree with him to bring his government down in Friday’s vote. Sources said that Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Transport Minister Yiannis Ragousis expressed objections to the idea of holding a referendum.
The first setback ahead of Friday’s ballot was dealt when Socialist deputy Milena Apostolaki said that she was quitting PASOK’s parliamentary group to become an independent. She referred to the referendum proposal as “wrong and divisive.” Her decision reduced the government’s presence in the 300-seat Parliament to just 152.
A further blow to PASOK’s majority before the vote cannot be discounted but even if the government survives Friday’s ballot, Papandreou’s referendum proposal will have to be put to another vote in Parliament. Again, a simple majority would be needed but it seems unlikely that the government would be able to garner even this.
Apart from Apostolaki, PASOK lawmakers Eva Kaili, Vasso Papandreou, Mimis Androulakis and Hara Kefalidou indicated they would not support the referendum. Were the motion to be defeated, Papandreou’s position would become untenable. Several of the MPs set to vote against the referendum suggested that the prime minister should instead try to form a national unity government.
Opposition parties insisted that snap polls were the only way forward. “Elections are a national necessity,” New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said after talks with President Karolos Papoulias. Samaras said he was “determined to avert, at all costs, such reckless adventurism,” referring to the referendum proposal.
ND is expecting EU leaders to pressure Samaras into sticking to an EU debt deal for Greece if he comes to power.
Leftist parties appealed to Greeks to resume anti-austerity protests, with the Communist Party (KKE) calling for a rally outside Parliament on Friday to coincide with the vote. Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader Giorgos Karatzaferis reportedly proposed to Samaras that both parties’ MPs boycott the confidence vote.