Government eyes growth, political boost ahead of vote

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Monday requested a vote of confidence in the government in a bid to give it a much-needed boost as Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis submitted a draft budget in Parliament predicting a steady return to growth and heralding a series of tax breaks.

Samaras sought the vote on Monday as Parliament resumed its regular sessions after the summer recess, paving the way for a debate to begin tomorrow with a vote expected at midnight on Friday. The government has 154 MPs in the 300-seat House but needs the support of only half of the lawmakers who are present to win the vote. As nine Golden Dawn deputies are in pretrial custody, the coalition needs just 146 votes, which it seems sure to gain. A bigger challenge for the government is securing the support of 180 MPs for its presidential candidate in February when the incumbent’s term is set to end. If it fails to do this, which is likely as main leftist opposition SYRIZA has said it will block its candidate, snap polls will be called.

In a bid to bolster the coalition’s ranks ahead of the political challenges ahead, Samaras met in Parliament’s canteen on Monday with several New Democracy MPs. Topics of discussion included taxes, funding for local projects and hospitals, and farmers’ pensions, according to sources.

On leaving Parliament, Samaras appeared upbeat, telling reporters that he expected “a good year for Greece, for stability, growth and for a reduction in unemployment.”

Earlier Hardouvelis had presented a draft budget predicting a primary surplus for next year worth 2.9 percent of gross domestic product and a steady return to growth, of 0.6 percent of GDP this year, and 2.9 percent in 2015. The draft provides for no loans from the International Monetary Fund for next year.

The budget – the first to be balanced in four decades – also heralded a series of tax cuts and other relief following four years of austerity. Apart from a 30 percent reduction to a tax on heating oil, and a 30 percent cut to a so-called solidarity tax on income, the budget also earmarked some 540 million euros to reverse salary and pension cuts to police and armed forces employees and judges.

The details of the budget, and the tax relief it foresees, must still be approved by representatives of Greece’s international creditors who are in Athens reviewing the government’s reform progress.

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