MPs to be sworn in Saturday ahead of debate on gov’t policy program


Following a busy week of diplomatic exchanges in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras returns to Athens for a packed few days of parliamentary action.

Tsipras rounded off his trip Friday as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias confirmed that US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Greece in November. The prime minister met Kerry on Thursday. Kotzias said that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland will travel to Athens first to prepare for Kerry’s visit.

However, Tsipras’s focus will quickly have to shift to the domestic political scene as MPs are due to be sworn in today and a parliamentary speaker elected tomorrow before a three-day debate begins on Monday ahead of a confidence vote at midnight on Wednesday.

SYRIZA is expected to put forward former interior minister Nikos Voutsis for the role of parliamentary speaker. It is not clear if the opposition parties will support the nomination but the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition has a five-seat majority so there is no danger of its candidate for the position not being elected. The outgoing speaker, Zoe Constantopoulou, received the votes of 235 out of the 300 MPs.

The bigger challenge for Tsipras will come from Monday, when he has to set out his government’s policy program and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos also has to submit to Parliament the draft budget for 2016. SYRIZA campaigned on the idea of a “parallel program,” which involves replacing some of the bailout measures agreed with lenders with others that are less onerous for most Greeks. Tsipras will be expected to show how his coalition can achieve this while also meeting the targets set by lenders, who want more than 40 prior actions to be completed in the next few weeks.

The return of MPs to Parliament will also signal the start of the process for SYRIZA to regroup after the departure of its radical faction, the Left Platform, before the elections. A number of key positions have been left vacant.

Panayiotis Rigas is due to take over as party secretary, while the first meeting of SYRIZA’s central committee is due to take place next weekend.