Coalition stability in the balance as junior partner balks

The stability of the fragile coalition remained in the balance late on Thursday as the third meeting this week between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partners, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Fotis Kouvelis of Democratic Left, failed to yield a compromise on the debacle over the closure of the state broadcaster ERT, with Kouvelis indicating that he might withdraw from the government, a move that would leave the coalition with a wafer-thin majority in Parliament.

The two junior partners left the Maximos Mansion, returning to their respective headquarters where they were expected to meet with their MPs while Samaras summoned his ministers.

It remained unclear whether the disagreement was over aspects of a potential compromise on the issue of ERT or the signs of a broader crisis in the ranks of the government.

Rumors swirled of a clash between Samaras and Kouvelis in the meeting, with the latter insisting that the premier concede to his way of thinking.

“No common ground was found” on the issue of ERT, Kouvelis said, adding that ERT’s restructuring must be carried out with the broadcaster open. He slammed the government for refusing to implement a court order to restore ERT’s signal, saying that it was “unacceptable.” “For us it is an issue of democratic legitimacy,” Kouvelis added.

Noting that the situation was “extremely critical,” Venizelos said that PASOK wanted stability and not elections. “We want the government to continue as a three-party government and we want Democratic Left to be part of it,” he said. The PASOK leader repeated calls for ERT to reopen “immediately,” adding that the “status and outlook of the coalition” must be examined.

During the political upheaval, a large crowd of dismissed ERT employees and supporters gathered outside the broadcaster’s headquarters in the northeastern suburb of Aghia Paraskevi for a protest rally. A smaller protest was held outside the central Athens premises of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, which was due to rule on a request by the union representing ERT employees to revoke a decision to shut the broadcaster down.

Earlier on Thursday there was upheaval in Parliament with deputies from the main leftist opposition SYRIZA, the Communist Party (KKE) and the right-wing anti-bailout Independent Greeks leaving the House in protest at the government’s decision not to discuss an amendment on the closure of state broadcaster ERT.

The amendment, submitted by KKE, was aimed at overturning the legislative act that shut down the organization earlier this month. Alternate Environment Minister Stavros Kalafatis said that the amendment cannot be accepted because it would entail an extra burden on the state budget – which would be in violation of the Greek Constitution. Opposition lawmakers accused government officials of evading the issue.

In a related development, the government decided to temporarily suspend a license fee for public radio and television, which is raised via electricity bills, until a new public broadcaster has been set up.