Gov’t calls snap presidential poll for December 17

Government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi announced Monday that a first round of votes for the presidential election will be held on December 17, underlining the need for Greek authorities to focus on troika talks following a decision by eurozone officials to approve a short extension to Greece’s bailout and to curb political uncertainty.

The surprise announcement came shortly after eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels signaled that they would approve a request from Greece for the European part of its bailout, which ends on December 31, to be extended by two months. The decision paves the way for the return to Athens of troika inspectors and the resumption of a stalled review. Greece is expected to formally submit its request for the extension on Tuesday.

Describing the decision in Brussels as “a very positive development,” Voultepsi said the next few weeks and months were critical for the country. “Greece must be absolutely ready to marshal all its forces and arguments,” she said. She condemned ongoing calls by leftist SYRIZA on opposition MPs to block the presidential vote and spark snap general elections, saying they were “blatantly undermining” the government. “Political uncertainty must stop now,” she said, noting that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos had asked Parliament Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis for the first vote to be held on December 17.

According to the Greek Constitution, if no candidate garners 200 votes in the first vote, a second vote follows five days later; if that is inconclusive, a third round is held with 180 votes needed for the election of a candidate. If the final vote is also inconclusive, snap general elections follow a month later.

There were rumors on Monday that the coalition’s candidate for president could be announced as early as Tuesday.

Kathimerini understands that Samaras and Venizelos had decided to bring forward the presidential elections several days ago and that European officials were also sounded out to secure a shorter extension to the bailout than European officials had originally been planned.

The decision in Brussels to approve the extension of Greece’s bailout by two months came just a few hours after Greece approved its budget for 2015 in Parliament.

European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici confirmed that the troika’s technical teams will return to Athens on Tuesday to lay the groundwork for the anticipated return of troika mission chiefs.

Greek officials are to be given a full list of the pending actions ahead of the troika mission chiefs’ return to Athens, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a press conference.

A budget passed in Parliament in the early hours of Monday – with 155 votes in favor, 134 against and 1 MP voting present – predicts a return to growth next year of 2.9 percent of gross domestic product and a fiscal deficit of 0.2 percent of GDP. It also pledges a series of tax breaks.

But it does not have the endorsement of the troika, which predicts a fiscal gap for next year which would necessitate more than 2 billion euros in additional measures. Although Greece has rejected the existence of a fiscal gap, it has proposed to the troika certain measures that it could take in the event that further savings are necessary. Those include raising value-added tax on hotel services to 13 from 6.5 percent and phasing out early pensions.