On tense day of political chaos, PM backs down

After a turbulent day of political maneuvering by the government and opposition, Prime Minister George Papandreou suggested that he would be willing to step aside to form a unity government but said he still wanted his MPs to back him in a confidence vote on Friday night.

?I am not clinging onto my seat,? he said on Thursday night during a parliamentary debate during which he also backtracked on a proposal to put Greece?s latest debt deal with the European Union to a referendum — a move that had provoked shock and frustration among EU leaders.

In what appeared to be a last-ditch attempt to rally dissenting MPs ahead of the confidence vote, Papandreou warned against the risk of bankruptcy for Greece and said his government should press on with its task of pushing through a difficult austerity package aimed at curbing a deepening debt crisis.

?We, PASOK, the Greek Socialist Party, assumed the task and the political cost of averting the risk of bankruptcy,? he said, adding that he was determined ?to reform Greece and extract it from this crisis.?

During a tense and tumultuous day, Papandreou faced increasing dissent within his party, with several deputies and ministers questioning his proposal for a referendum and some indicating that he should step down and make way for a unity government.

Following Papandreou?s initial speech in Parliament — during which he failed to clarify whether or not he would seek a unity government — Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou insisted that the premier should make clear that he supported the idea of an interim administration.

Others were more forthright. PASOK MP Dimitris Lintzeris said he would vote ?no? in the confidence vote unless the premier took a clear position on whether or not he is prepared to form a unity government.

The prime minister cannot afford to lose even one MP in the vote, scheduled for Friday at midnight. With two deputies — Eva Kaili and Elena Panaritis — having said already that they will vote ?no? unless the PM unequivocally commits to forming a unity government, ruling PASOK will garner only 150 votes in the 300-seat Parliament.

Apart from seeking to rally his troops, Papandreou had also made an overture to the main conservative opposition party, New Democracy, which fell flat later in the day however.

During a speech to his Cabinet, the premier had invited ND leader Antonis Samaras and his MPs to become ?co-negotiators? with the government on Greece?s new 130-billion-euro debt deal with the EU.

Responding to an earlier statement by Samaras stating outright for the first time that ND would support the EU debt deal, the premier backtracked on his referendum proposal. ?The question was never about the referendum but about whether or not we are prepared to approve the decisions on October 26,? the premier told his Cabinet, referring to the EU?s debt pact for Greece. ?What is at stake is our very position in the EU,? the PM said.