Political upheaval sharpens after bribe claims with threats and insinuations

Greek MPs are to vote Tuesday in the second ballot of a three-phase presidential election amid a growing political crisis that has been sharpened by the bribery allegations of Independent Greeks MP Pavlos Haikalis and a slew of threats and counter-threats in Parliament.

The government is still far from the 180 votes it needs for next week’s third and final presidential vote, making the prospect of snap polls increasingly likely.

There had been hopes that the vote Tuesday, when the minimum threshold for votes is 200, would give an indication of the government’s chances of garnering the 180 votes it needs in the final round. But the tensions that mounted over the weekend, amid suggestions of attempted bribery, made it clear that some lawmakers will go to the polls under extreme pressure. Independent MPs Spyros Lykoudis and Christos Aidonis said they would sue fellow independents Odysseas Voudouris and Theodoros Parastatidis after the latter two suggested that the stance of independent MPs who voted against next year’s budget but in favor of the president in the first round is suspicious. The move came after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras heralded legal action against the Independent Greeks over a video featuring Haikalis and an alleged middleman purportedly offering the MP a bribe to back the coalition’s presidential candidate, Stavros Dimas.

Members of Parliament’s ethics committee decided over the weekend not to view the video, deeming that it was an illegal product. However, the panel summoned Voudouris and Parastatidis who are Monday to explain their insinuations.

As Parliament pushed for a judicial probe, new information and claims complicated the affair over the weekend. Haikalis revealed that several months prior to the alleged attempt at bribery, the purported mediator had borrowed 5,000 euros from him.

The alleged mediator, Giorgos Apostolopoulos, vehemently denied his implication in the affair over the weekend. His professional career, however, raises several questions. He was an adviser to Deutsche Bank with connections to virtually all the main political parties including New Democracy and more recently with Independent Greeks.

In another revelation over the weekend, independent MP Chrysoula Giatagana, formerly with Independent Greeks, claimed that Apostolopoulos was still an adviser to Independent Greeks. She also claimed that Apostolopoulos telephoned her to convince her to return to the party.

As New Democracy and leftist SYRIZA traded barbs about the incident, it appeared that some independents were seeking a way to resolve the impasse.

Vassilis Oikonomou, an independent and former Democratic Left (DIMAR) MP, said an effort was under way by “a significant number” of lawmakers to propose an agreement on a president and a date for elections next year; he said a new candidate could replace Dimas, namely DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis.