Gov’t seeks better result in second presidential vote as bribe claim probe shelved

With all political parties now actively preparing for the prospect of snap elections, MPs are to vote in the second ballot of a critical three-phase presidential vote at noon on Tuesday.

The government is hoping that its candidate could garner more support following an appeal by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Sunday for political consensus in exchange for early elections at the end of 2015.

The overture by Samaras – who also pledged to broaden the government to include “pro-European” personalities – appeared to have influenced some skeptical independent lawmakers. A few indicated on Monday that they would vote for the government’s candidate, former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas. The government is certain to fall short of Tuesday’s minimum of 200 votes but its performance will give an indication of whether it will be able to attain the 180 necessary in next Monday’s final ballot to avert snap general elections.

Sources indicated that the government could get between 163 and 169 votes in Tuesday’s vote. Next week’s 180-vote target appears very difficult to reach.

Irrespective of the outcome, however, government sources told Kathimerini that Samaras has demonstrated he is open to consensus, unlike leftist SYRIZA which it blames for dragging the country toward elections that could bring fresh political and financial upheaval.

Sources said that Sunday’s overture had been discussed by Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos, and had been planned to take place between the second and third vote. The timing was brought forward for two reasons – the less-than-impressive result in the first vote last week and a sharp spike in tensions triggered by the claims of Independent Greeks MP Pavlos Haikalis that a mediator tried to bribe him to back the government in the presidential votes.

A prosecutor shelved an investigation into the claims by Haikalis on Monday, deeming in his report that there was no evidence to back the lawmaker’s allegations. According to sources, Panos Panayiotopoulos also deemed that the audio and visual material submitted by Haikalis – and ostensibly showing the alleged bribery attempt – was illegal.

Haikalis may face charges after saying he gave the alleged mediator, Giorgos Apostolopoulos, 5,000 euros to invest on the stock market. Greek MPs are forbidden from speculating on the Stock Exchange and Haikalis on Tuesday changed his story, saying that he lent Apostolopoulos the money.

In his testimony Apostolopoulos claimed he had never really intended to bribe Haikalis but to expose him as politically immoral after the MP allegedly confided to him over the summer that he would be open to accepting money in return for backing the government in the forthcoming presidential vote as he had serious financial problems.

SYRIZA and Independent Greeks both slammed the prosecutor’s decision to shelve the probe, suggesting that the swiftness of the decision raised questions about the impartiality of judicial authorities.