NEWS

PM names Dimas as presidential candidate, starts search for votes

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Tuesday named former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas as his coalition’s candidate for early presidential elections this month, paving the way for weeks of political turbulence as the government scrambles to garner the 180 votes required to endorse Dimas and avert snap general elections.

In a televised address, Samaras said bringing the elections forward was a way of “removing uncertainty and restoring political stability.” “When the current parliament elects a president at the end of the month, the clouds will be gone and the country will be ready to officially enter the post-bailout era,” he said.

The first round is to be held next Wednesday but as the coalition is virtually certain not to amass the required 200 votes the election will go to a second round on December 23; as that vote also requires 200 votes, the definitive decision is expected to be taken on December 29 when 180 votes are required for a candidate to be approved. If that vote also fails, snap elections will be called, probably for January.

As for the government’s candidate, Samaras declared his faith in Dimas, a 73-year-old former European environment commissioner and ex-foreign minister, saying he would be the government’s candidate in all three rounds of voting and describing him as “a personality respected by Greek citizens as well as the international community… who unites citizens beyond their political affiliations.”

Samaras’s decision to move the vote forward came just hours after eurozone finance ministers said they would offer Greece a two-month extension to the European part of an international bailout that ends on December 31. Samaras said the decision to grant Greece the extension “shows that in Europe, too, there is the realization that Greece is turning a page.”

But the move fueled jitters in Europe and sparked a crash of the Athens Stock Exchange which plunged 12.78 percent, the biggest drop since 1987. Bank shares plummeted too, by 16.6 percent, and 10-year bond yields rose to nearly 8 percent.

Amid the political and market upheaval, Samaras and his coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos are expected to ratchet up efforts at attracting independent MPs and drawing the support of lawmakers from opposition parties. New Democracy’s parliamentary committee is to convene on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Many independent and opposition MPs on Wednesday expressed respect for Dimas as a personality, indicating however that this would not necessarily win their vote.

Venizelos said on Tuesday that the main reason for bringing forward the presidential elections was to allow the coalition to resume stalled negotiations with the country’s creditors in conditions of relative calm. The goal, he said, was “to clear the political horizon and enable the country to marshal all its forces and all its arguments in the complex and difficult negotiation with the European partners and the IMF.” Venizelos is to meet German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin on Wednesday.