The sense that the country is in a pre-election mode intensified on Thursday as, despite the insistence of most government officials that polls will take place as scheduled at the end of the coalition’s term in the fall, junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos continued to defy Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the contentious Prespes name deal.
Despite the fact that Tsipras and Kammenos had agreed on an informal moratorium until March for discussion of the Prespes deal, the leader of right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) has increasingly been voicing his opposition to the agreement.
In the latest of a series of threats, Kammenos, who is also defense minister, broke with the government line once again on Thursday with a statement to armed forces officials in Larissa, central Greece, declaring that he will quit his ministerial post and ANEL will withdraw its support for the SYRIZA-led government when the Prespes agreement goes to FYROM’s Parliament.
In his speech to officers Kammenos accused FYROM’s government of “deciding to pursue its irredentist intentions,” interpreting this as “discrediting the Prespes deal which, in any case, is dead.” He was responding to a series of references by FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in recent days to a “Macedonian” identity and language.
As approval of the Prespes deal in FYROM’s Parliament is expected in January, Kammenos’s statements on Thursday fueled concerns that a potential crisis in the Greek government could come earlier than originally anticipated.
In a second comment later on Thursday, Kammenos backpedaled, suggesting that he would quit when the deal comes to Greece’s Parliament, most likely in February, a stance he has already expressed several times, most recently earlier this week during a debate in Parliament.
But Kammenos’s concession seemed to be too little too late. It came despite Tsipras’s insistence on the need for all ministers to speak with one voice, in the wake of the departure of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in October following a clash with Kammenos.
Indeed Kammenos’s accusations of FYROM’s irredentist ambitions Thursday came just a few hours after a Greek government source indicated that the FYROM government’s constitutional revisions are in line with the Prespes accord.
According to the source, the main point of contention, Paragraph 3 of Article 49, which referred to “Macedonian people who live in neighboring countries” was changed to “diaspora,” reflecting references that exist in the Greek Constitution. “Therefore, it corresponds to the letter and spirit of the Prespes agreement, whose ratification process is continuing,” the source said.
Meanwhile Kammenos’s vendetta with Kotzias, who signed the Prespes deal in June, appeared to intensify on Thursday, with the latter describing the former as “politically dead.” ANEL issued a statement in response, describing Kotzias as “wandering aimlessly” and “disturbing our sense of aesthetics.”
Centrist To Potami, whose support for the Prespes deal had appeared to falter following Zaev’s comments, on Thursday indicated that it was prepared to back the accord subject to the review of FYROM’s constitutional amendments.