First presidential vote a litmus test for government

The first of possibly three presidential ballots will take place on Wednesday evening, with the government expecting its candidate, Stavros Dimas, to receive at least 161 of 300 MPs’ votes, which will be well short of the 200 needed to be elected but a basis for the coalition to work from for the final ballot on December 29, when 180 votes will be required.

The vote is due to begin at 7 p.m., with all of New Democracy and PASOK’s 155 MPs expected to back Dimas’s candidacy. The independent MPs Katerina Markou, Spyros Lykoudis, Grigoris Psarianos, Christos Aidonis, Giorgos Davris and Panayiotis Melas are also expected to vote for Dimas, taking the total to 161.

Sources indicated that the government believes this total could rise to as high as 167 in Wednesday’s first ballot. Two possible sources of votes are Independent Greeks and Democratic Left (DIMAR) but the official line from both parties is that they will not vote for Dimas. As there is not the option of a “no” vote in Greece’s presidential elections, this means they will be voting “present.”

A prosecutor ruled on Tuesday that the seven Golden Dawn MPs in pre-trial custody should be allowed to take part in Wednesday’s vote. They are all expected to oppose Dimas’s candidacy. Former Golden Dawn lawmaker Stathis Boukouras, now an independent, will also be allowed to vote. It is thought he might back the government’s nominee although not necessarily in Wednesday’s vote.

Speaking from Brussels, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos stressed the importance of political stability. “Uncertainty as regards the country’s strategic direction provokes negative repercussions for the economy,” he said. His statement came as PASOK tries to differentiate its stance from that of New Democracy ahead of possible snap elections. Venizelos said austerity endured by Greeks must not be in vain. “I will not allow… the achievements of the country and the sacrifices of the Greek people to go to waste.”

In the SYRIZA camp, officials avoided speculating on the number of MPs the coalition will garner on Wednesday. Some in SYRIZA said they believed the government has other potential supporters who will not reveal themselves until just before the second or third votes in the coming weeks. Meanwhile SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis accused the government of having “a plan of pressuring, blackmailing and terrorizing Greek society in order to find the 180 [votes].”