Greek MPs hold crunch presidential vote to avert snap polls

Lawmakers in debt-laden Greece will on Monday try for a third and final time to elect a new president and avoid a snap general election that could undermine the country`s international bailout.

AFP| Last Updated: Dec 28, 2014, 09:02 AM IST

Athens: Lawmakers in debt-laden Greece will on Monday try for a third and final time to elect a new president and avoid a snap general election that could undermine the country`s international bailout.

The definitive round of voting to choose a successor to President Karolos Papoulias comes during last-ditch efforts by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to get the government`s candidate elected and avert early polls.

"The Greek people don`t want early elections. The Greek people understand where this adventure could lead," Samaras said late Saturday in an interview on Nerit public television. 

The government`s candidate, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, fell 32 votes short of the required 200 in the second round held on Tuesday.

Monday`s final vote will see the target fall to 180 votes, but even this seems a tall order. Most newspapers predict the government will face a tough time getting its candidate elected.

If no president is chosen, a general election will automatically be triggered.

European Union and International Monetary Fund officials fear an early poll would be won by the anti-austerity, radical leftist Syriza party and could undo many of Greece`s ongoing fiscal reforms.

Recent opinion polls show Samaras`s ruling coalition trailing Syriza, which wants to renegotiate the conditions of the bailout and roll back unpopular austerity measures imposed by the creditors.

Syriza`s lead has narrowed to 3.3 percent from 3.6 percent in early December, according to a survey by the Alco polling institute for Proto Thema newspaper, indicating the party would not have a clear majority to form a government on its own if polls were held now.Greece recently secured a two-month extension from its EU-IMF creditors to conclude an ongoing fiscal audit that will determine the release of some 7.0 billion euros ($8.6 billion) in loans. This extension expires in February.

The reforms required by the European Union and International Monetary Fund have improved the government`s finances, but have taken a heavy toll on Greeks as unemployment has soared above 27 percent and many people have had wages and benefits cut.

Syriza, which has declined to vote in the presidential election in order to force snap polls, wants to raise salaries and pensions, halt layoffs and freeze the privatisation of state assets -- key elements of reforms demanded by creditors.

The looming political stalemate, as well as Syriza`s political agenda, prompted German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to warn that any new government must respect commitments made by its predecessor.

"We will continue to help Greece along the path of difficult reforms," Schaeuble said in an interview with Germany`s Bild newspaper on Saturday.

But if Greece "decides to take another path, that will be more difficult," the conservative minister warned.

Although Greece is scheduled to hold its next elections in 2016, Samaras on Saturday already appeared to be bracing for snap polls.

"Even though elections would be convenient for me, I want to see the ship safely into port," he said, repeating his offer to bring elections forward to late 2015 if a new president is elected.

Syriza`s leader Alexis Tsipras was already crowing victory over the weekend and renewed a pledge to unravel the tough belt-tightening measures.

"Syriza`s victory in elections will jumpstart a massive national effort to save society and restore Greece," Tsipras said in an article in Avgi newspaper. 

"Our first step will be to carry out our programme to address the humanitarian crisis. This won`t create new loans, nor will it be a subject of negotiations," he said.

Greece`s dire finances nearly destroyed the euro in 2012 and, despite two bailouts worth 240 billion euros and most of the debt held by private investors being wiped out, the economy has only begun to recover after six years of contraction.