Greek president meets opposition leader as political crisis brews

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos met the head of the main opposition conservative party on Sunday amid a political crisis and the threat of a debt default that would threaten Greece’s future in the eurozone.

As head of state, Pavlopoulos normally plays a ceremonial role in Greek politics but he is responsible for appointing prime ministers and calling elections and will play a central role if the gathering crisis forces a change of government.

With Greece facing a chaotic period from Monday, when capital controls may be placed over its banking system, the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has come under heavy pressure.

Its decision to call a referendum next Sunday on a foreign bailout has thrown open Greece’s future as a member of the 19-member eurozone and could force Tsipras to resign if Greek voters defy its calls to reject the deal.

The government has urged Greeks to vote against the bailout terms, and Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis on Saturday said there would be “political developments” when asked if the government would resign if Greeks voted “yes.”

On Sunday, Pavlopoulos met former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, warning that it was vital for Greece to remain in the euro.

“The course of the country in Europe and in the eurozone must be undisturbed,” he said, before the meeting. “I am confident that next Sunday, people will once more show that in crucial times it displays greater maturity and resolve.”

As head of state, Pavlopoulos, a former conservative politician, normally stays clear of politics but was quoted by Greek newspaper Real News this month as saying that he would not be prepared to serve as president if the country left the euro.

However with Greece set to default on a 1.6 billion euro debt to the International Monetary Fund as early as Tuesday, even a “yes” vote in the referendum may not be enough to resolve the crisis and keep Greece in Europe.

Samaras, whose New Democracy party lost power to the leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in January, warned before meeting Pavlopoulos that Greece’s position in Europe was under threat.

“We want to defend the position of Greece in the heart of Europe,” he told reporters. “I am obliged to say that, right now, defending that national position is becoming harder, this ‘red line’ is in immediate danger.”

He made no comments after the meeting with the president.

A US-educated veteran of Greek politics, Samaras has condemned the decision by Tsipras to call a referendum on July 5 on bailout terms offered by foreign creditors and said during a parliamentary debate that it would force Greece out of the euro.

He has said in the past that he would be prepared to serve in a national unity government if Greece fell into crisis, as long as Tsipras were not part of it.