Gov’t makes last-ditch bid to bolster presidential candidate and avert snap polls

Ahead of Monday’s third critical presidential vote, government officials were canvassing MPs over the holidays in a last-ditch bid to garner additional support for the coalition’s candidate, former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas, and to avert snap elections.

Both Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition partner, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, were in contact with independent lawmakers as well as MPs from Democratic Left and Independent Greeks in a bid to boost backing for Dimas to the required minimum of 180 votes. The target remains extremely difficult amid reports that around half of DIMAR’s MPs are shifting toward leftist SYRIZA while right-wing Independent Greeks has been shaken by the claims of one its lawmakers – Pavlos Haikalis – that he was approached with a bribe, allegations that a prosecutor deemed to be groundless.

There are still hopes in the government, however, that a handful of MPs who voted “present” in the previous two ballots – when Dimas garnered 160 and 168 votes respectively – may reconsider and throw their support behind the government.

Government officials have rebuffed a spate of rumors about possible moves by Samaras over the coming days – including reports that the premier may herald a change in the electoral law, scrapping the 50-seat bonus for the first party and the 3 percent minimum threshold for a party to enter Parliament. Samaras is expected to make a televised address over the weekend, underlining the risks of snap elections amid liquidity fears as state coffers can only last until around March in the absence of a new agreement with the country’s creditors.

Another rumor, according to which Golden Dawn lawmakers would switch their position and support the coalition’s candidate in the vote, was nipped in the bud by Dimas, who said he would not accept being elected president with the votes of GD MPs.

Meanwhile, as the prospect of snap polls looms, all political parties have been preparing campaigns and candidate lists, and several new political movements are being formed. The anticipated announcement of a new party by former PASOK leader George Papandreou, who was prime minister when Greece signed its first memorandum with creditors, has triggered the most acute reactions, particularly within the ranks of the junior coalition partner. On Friday, PASOK sources appealed to Papandreou not to rock the boat. “PASOK president Evangelos Venizelos has repeatedly underlined the need for safeguarding the unity of our party which is the guarantor of national stability,” one source said, adding that it was “inconceivable” that its cohesion should be threatened by one individual, particularly Papandreou, who was honored by PASOK by being elected as its president and subsequently became prime minister during a critical period for the country. “Such an act would constitute an insult to the memory of Andreas Papandreou and the historic struggles of the party,” the source added, referring to Papandreou’s father who founded PASOK.