Monday, December 29, 2014

Greece plunged into crisis as failure to elect president sets up snap election

Stavros Dimas fails to win required number of votes, meaning parliament must now be dissolved and poll held within 30 days
Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza party, leaves parliament after the vote. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Greece was plunged into a renewed political crisis on Monday after parliament failed to elect a head of state, setting the stage for snap polls tipped to bring radical leftists to power.
Athens’s 300-seat house voted by 168-132 in favour of Stavros Dimas, a former European commissioner and the sole candidate for the post, becoming president, but he had been required to win 180 ballots.
“The number of 168 votes is a clear parliamentary majority but as the constitution foresees it does not allow my election,” he said. “What is important, now, is the interests of the country and the Greek people … what unites us is Greece.”
Under Greek law the parliament now has to be dissolved within 10 days and elections called within 30. The prime minister, Antonis Samaras, whose conservative-dominated two-party alliance has been in office since June 2012, said he would seek elections as soon as possible. “Tomorrow I will go to the president of the republic to request snap polls as early as possible on 25 January,” he said. “It is the hour of democracy, which means truth and responsibility, not populism.”
Five years into Greece’s worst economic crisis in decades, the stridently anti-austerity Syriza party is leading polls and likely to win. The leftists have declared that renegotiation of the accords Athens has signed with the EU, ECB and IMF – the bodies that have kept it afloat to the tune of €240bn – will be among its top priorities. It will also seek to write off the country’s monumental €320bn debt – ambitions that have revived fears of Greece colliding with creditors and being ejected from the eurozone.
Following the vote, Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, told reporters the country had experienced “a historic day”.
“In a few days the Samaras government, which pillaged the country, will belong to the past, as will the memoranda of austerity,” he said of the bailout accords. “The future has already begun. You should be optimistic and happy.”
The roll-call vote took place in a sombre atmosphere, eclipsed by the tragedy on board a ferry in the Adriatic where rescue efforts were at that point continuing almost 24 hours after the vessel caught fire.
Christos Pappas, the imprisoned second-in-command of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, was the first to announce that he would not be voting for the government’s candidate. Independent MPs, whom Samaras had hoped to sway in this, the final round of a three-stage vote, followed suit.
As it became clear that deputies were unlikely to reach the 180-vote threshold, the Athens stock exchange nosedived. By the ballot’s close it had shed more than 10% in an indication of investors’ concerns over the turmoil that is likely to hit Greece, which has been bailed out twice, once elections take place.
Stony-faced lawmakers looked on as Golden Dawn MPs, accentuating the deep political divisions now plaguing Greece, screamed at Samaras: “We will see you in prison.” The prime minister immediately called a cabinet meeting for 2pm local time to decide on government strategy in the coming days. Emerging from parliament, he said: “We did whatever we could for a president to be elected by today’s parliament and to avert early elections which hold serious dangers and which the majority of Greeks do not want … unfortunately a minority of 132 parliamentarians are dragging the country to snap polls.”

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