August 19, 2022

Greek Parliament Passes Critical Confidence Vote

The vote was conducted by roll call following several hours of fiery debate that resulted in several opposition lawmakers briefly walking out of Parliament in protest at comments by the deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, an outspoken Socialist stalwart.

In a sign that Mr. Papandreou had managed to rally Socialist lawmakers following a week of political turmoil, all 155 ruling party M.P.s voted yes, with 143 from the opposition voting against, with two abstentions.

The vote averts early elections and a stalled government that many feared could throw Greece into default on its loans and the rest of the euor zone into a financial panic rivaling the one that followed the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008.

Now, Mr. Papandreou must face an even bigger challenge when Parliament votes next week on a slate of measures that includes tax hikes, wage cuts and state privatization. The steps were required by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund before the next segment of aid that Greece needs to meet expenses through the summer is released.

Greece’s new finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, pledged that Parliament would pass the unpopular austerity measures next week. “The midterm program is a plan for reforming our nation and must be implemented,” the minister said in a reference to the new package of measures Greece must approve to secure its next round of financing from its foreign creditors.

Before the vote, Mr. Papandreou called on Parliament and the people to show responsibility and seize “a critical opportunity to save the country from default.”

He appealed as he had last week to the main conservative opposition party New Democracy for consensus on the austerity measures to be voted on in Parliament next Tuesday. But he seemd to know his entreaties were falling mostly on deaf ears, and he could not resist a dig at the opposition, saying, “Our government had to struggle to clear up after your mistakes.”

He defended the country’s foreign creditors, who have become a lightning rod for popular fury, saying, “They are giving us a helping hand in difficult times.”

But tens of thousands of people gathered outside Parliament, many voicing rage at foreign lenders they see as a kind of occupying power and at a government they blame for Greece’s financial crisis.

“They destroyed the country,” said Terpsichore Theofili, 23, a history student, as she stood in the crowd in Syntagma Square outside Parliament. “They should pay, not us,” she added.

For three weeks, protesters have come together nightly in the square to air their grievances over a crisis that endures despite an earlier round of painful austerity measures. The lingering crisis has left the government struggling to agree on another round of painful cuts to further diminish the country’s bloated public sector and win urgently needed international bailout money.

Many in the crowd wore stickers aimed at Parliament that read, “We won’t leave until they leave.” Most were good to their word, as the crowd thinned out considerably after the vote and after the subways closed down at midnight.

Inside, in the debate leading up to the vote, Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, the main opposition party, repeated his calls for a renegotiation of the new austerity package. “We will not give consensus to a mistake,” Mr. Samaras said. “We are, however, more than ready to give consensus to the correction of a mistake.” Conservatives briefly walked out, but returned for the vote.

On Tuesday, the Socialist party appeared to rally around Mr. Papandreou following a week of turmoil in which two Socialist members of Parliament gave up their seats in protest at what they saw as the prime minister’s failures of leadership.

In the reshuffle last Friday, Mr. Papandreou replaced the former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, who has been the face of the government’s negotiations with its international lenders, with Evangelos Venizelos, a Socialist party veteran with the clout to get the party in line behind measures that have often gone against traditional Socialist positions.

But tensions remained inside the party. In Parliamentary debate on Tuesday, a Socialist member of Parliament, Panayiotis Kouroublis, said that his vote on Tuesday would be positive but that it did not constitute unconditional support for the governing party. “I will vote for the government tonight, but that does not mean I’m giving it carte blanche,” he said.

Last week, Mr. Papandreou failed to forge a government of national unity with the New Democracy party, which is center-right and was in power when Greece’s debt ballooned. The party now opposes some of the terms of the austerity measures and has proposed tax cuts in addition to spending cuts.

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