In ND’s absence, vote called off

Parliament witnessed some of its most surreal scenes ever yesterday, as the government’s decision to abstain from the vote on whether to launch an inquiry into the Vatopedi property scandal left the opposition parties debating the issue on their own before deciding that they would call off the voting altogether. The House was only half-full as New Democracy decided on Thursday that it would not take part in the process, claiming that there was no evidence to warrant PASOK asking for a preliminary judicial inquiry into the land exchange. Parliament had on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of setting up a committee to probe the allegedly corrupt deal but PASOK wanted the inquiry as it would have the power to charge conservative ministers. For PASOK’s motion to pass, it needed 151 votes, which would have required three conservative deputies to cast their ballot in favor of the motion as well. Although there was no indication that any of the New Democracy MPs were poised to do so, the prime minister had been informed that as many as 15 of his deputies were considering casting a blank vote. To avoid any embarrassment, Costas Karamanlis decided to boycott the process. All four opposition parties blasted his decision during yesterday’s debate. However, without the government to attack, PASOK, the Communist Party, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) turned on each other as accusations flew about who was really pressuring the government over the land deal. Eventually, PASOK decided to withdraw its motion before any voting took place. In a day full of firsts for Parliament, it appeared that the Socialists’ move will allow them to resubmit the motion at a later date, should there be evidence of wrongdoing at a ministerial level. «I respect my institutional role and I will not make a decision; you will take the decision, since you are the majority,» Parliament Speaker and former conservative minister Dimitris Sioufas told PASOK MPs. «You believe that the conditions do not exist for a vote to take place, so the matter ends here. A new motion has to be tabled for a vote to be held.» Lake Vistonida to become public property again Lake Vistonida, in northern Greece, and the land around it is set to become public property again following the intervention of a court inspector who found that the 270 hectares should never have been given to the Vatopedi Monastery. The dispute over who holds the rights to the lake and its environs was one of the most controversial aspects of the Vatopedi property scandal. It prompted the deputy president of the Supreme Court, Yiannis Papanikolaou, who is also a court inspector, to investigate the legal wrangle between the state and the Mount Athos monastery, which dates back to 2004. A court in Rhodope heard the case at the time but never issued a decision, as the state waived its rights. Papanikolaou found this was not legal, as the judges had already voted two against one to award ownership to the state. The inspector found that the court should have issued its verdict and prevented the two parties from reaching an out-of-court settlement. Papanikolaou has ordered that the court ruling be published within the next few days by a different panel of judges. The ruling means that any subsequent land swaps are invalid and that the Vatopedi Monastery will only retain the rights to a 172-hectare islet.