Greece’s coalition government early Saturday won a confidence vote it called for in a bid to build support among its backbenchers and ease fears of political instability ahead of a crucial presidential vote early next year.
All 155 lawmakers in the conservative-socialist coalition backed the motion, while 131 opposition lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament rejected it and two said they were voting neither way.
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras sought confirmation of his economic reform policies halfway through his four-year term amid opposition calls for snap elections, insisting that the prospect of renewed political risk could spook international markets as the bailed-out country tries to exit a punishing six-year recession.
“Early elections would be a disaster and would cancel all the effort that’s been made” to revive Greece’s finances, he said during the debate. After the vote, Samaras insisted that the next parliamentary election would be held when the government’s mandate expires in 2016.
However, the coalition will still need opposition support — so far unforthcoming — to avoid a stalemate and snap election in February when parliament chooses the country’s new president, with any candidate requiring a minimum 180 votes to be elected.
During the three-day debate, even independent lawmakers strongly criticized Samaras’ government, and the leader of a small center-left party that took part in the coalition for nearly a year argued Friday that there was a “vital need” for the government to change.
The main opposition, the left-wing Syriza party, is leading opinion polls by promising to renegotiate the tough terms of Greece’s 240 billion euro ($302 billion) international bailouts, which have kept the country afloat since it lost market confidence in 2010 and nearly went bankrupt.
In exchange for the emergency loans from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, Greece imposed tough income cuts and repeatedly increased taxes, in an austerity drive that worsened a deep recession and led to about a million job losses.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras insisted in parliament Friday on the need for a sweeping solution to the country’s debt problems.
“We are asking for most of the debt to be written off,” he said, adding that repayment of the remaining part should be linked with the pace of Greece’s expected future economic growth.
Tsipras argued that the prospect of the presidential vote forcing early elections left Samaras with little legitimacy to carry out his planned debt relief negotiations with bailout creditors, which will aim to extend debt maturities and interest rates.
“Any decision or agreement will not have our consensus, will not be accepted by us and will not bind Syriza,” he said.
“Your (parliamentary) backing is far from the 180 lawmakers you need for the presidential election,” Tsipras added. “All opposition parties have said they will not vote for the new president … What will you do? Keep the entire country fettered by talk of early elections?”
Syriza has promised to raise incomes and reduce taxation, in what Samaras dismissed as “not an economic program … but a wedding list.”