PM confident of garnering 180 votes in next round as opposition eyes polls

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appeared confident the coalition government will muster the 180 votes in the third round needed to elect its presidential candidate and avert snap elections, after 168 lawmakers in the 300-seat House backed the former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas for the post in the second round of a parliamentary ballot on Tuesday, showing an increase from the 160 ballots cast last week.

“Despite our differences and despite the terrorism and mud-slinging of the Tsipras-Kammenos duo, more lawmakers voted for Stavros Dimas as president of the republic today,” Samaras told the press after the ballot, referring to opposition leaders Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA and Panos Kammenos of Independent Greeks. “I am hopeful that in the third round we will avert the danger to the nation.”

“However,” the prime minister added, “in the third round there will be no ‘present,’ there will be names and surnames. Every MP will have to answer for the anxiety of the Greeks and the interest of the nation,” Samaras said, referring to the 131 MPs who abstained by voting “present.”

Speaking after the vote, the leader of the main opposition SYRIZA party suggested the outcome to mean that Greece will be heading to general elections.

“Neither Parliament nor the people will be handing Mr Samaras a blank cheque to continue the memorandum and to implement the prior actions of austerity that slash pensions, increase the price of the medicines and loot the society,” Tsipras told reporters.

“With the new year, our country will be turning a new page, with a powerful popular mandate for a real negotiation, with optimism that we will succeed,” the leftist leader added, referring to negotiations with international creditors for a write-down of the Greek debt.

Fotis Kouvelis, head of embattled Democratic Left which saw one of its MPs splitting ranks just ahead of the vote, said the party’s refusal to back Dimas expresses its MPs’ “refusal to contribute to the continuance of the policies being exercised.”

“There needs to be change in Greece,” Kouvelis said.

“The people must be confident of… the liberation of the country from the memorandums and the policies imposed by foreign conquerors, by the bankers and lenders,” said Panos Kammenos, who recently backed allegations by one of his Independent Greeks lawmakers of being offered a bribe to back the government’s candidate.

With the government needing 12 more votes to elect Dimas, the focus ahead of the third round on December 29 will be centered on Democratic Left and Independent Greeks.