NEWS

Government clinches vital vote

Prime Minister George Papandreou won Parliament?s support for a tough austerity package designed to stave off default on Wednesday, securing 155 votes from Greece?s 300-seat House as all but one of his Socialist MPs, and a New Democracy defector, backed the government?s midterm economic program.

The government won the vote with 155 votes for, 138 against, five blank ballots and two absences.

The approval cleared the way for the release of a much-needed tranche of emergency funding from Greece?s creditors but a second vote scheduled for Wednesday – on the implementation of the measures – will determine whether or not the 12-billion-euro installment will be disbursed and a new rescue package elaborated.

But it was not all good news for the government. There were losses for the ruling Socialists as Panagiotis Kouroublis, one of a handful of skeptics, voted against the program and was ousted from the party.

Ruling PASOK?s majority has now been shaved to four.

There were losses for the main opposition New Democracy too. Elsa Papadimitriou voted for the measures, breaking ranks with her party and declaring herself an independent.

Papadimitriou said she hoped the government would not disappoint her, calling her vote ?the most difficult but valuable decision of my political career.? ?There is only one act of patriotism: consensus and cooperation,? she said. ?Fiscal suicide is no alternative.?

The vote was conducted by roll call after several hours of tense debate in Parliament involving impassioned speeches by deputies from all parties.

Earlier Papandreou had said approving the austerity measures was ?the only way to win enough time to push through much-needed reforms,? adding that the chief goal was to ?to avert total economic collapse.?

?There are only two choices – the difficult road of change and the easy road of desertion, we have chosen the difficult road,? he said, adding, ?The opposition can say whatever it wants, it will not stop us from carrying out our historic duty.?

ND leader Antonis Samaras, for his part, said that imposing more austerity measures on Greece would guarantee the country?s bankruptcy. ?At stake is not whether we will collapse now but whether we will take a step closer to collapse,? he said.

Ahead of the vote, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos appealed to opposition MPs to join the government for a debate on the implementation on the measures.

?We have taken a big step,? Venizelos told the Athens News Agency. ?Tomorrow we will take the second so that I can go on Sunday to see my Eurogroup partners with real proof of the country?s credibility,? he said.