Athens.- The Greek Parliament was expected late last night to vote down a censure motion submitted by the Socialist Party (PASOK) on Friday, demanding snap elections over what they said was the conservative government’s failure.
“The government has grown old very fast,” socialist PASOK party chief George Papandreou told parliament. “They have registered only pitiful failures … and we demand elections. Enough is enough.”
The ruling New Democracy party, which swept to power in 2004 ending 11 years of socialist rule, was embarrassed this week when it failed to push through broad constitutional changes due to a mutiny among its own deputies.
It was the first sign of cracks in the government after three years in office. Elections must take place by the spring of 2008 but analysts have said the government could call them as early as this spring.
“It was a clever tactical move by Papandreou but it will have little effect on government policies. At this moment, the prime minister enjoys very strong popular support and this may ease his hand in calling early elections,” said Anthony Livanios, head of Alpha Metrics polling company. Government officials said Karamanlis was unlikely to call early elections as a result of the motion and will make that clear in his speech to parliament on Sunday.
“Elections are not on the table at this moment,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity.
But he admitted the move is sure to block the proposed constitutional revision, which Karamanlis has called the “flagship of reforms”, ranging from education to land use.
Any constitutional changes would require socialist support.
“Our mission and our role is to continue with reforms and the constitutional revision,” New Democracy party secretary Lefteris Zagoritis told Greek TV. “Mr Papandreou is using procedural shenanigans to get rid of his own problems.”
The conservatives have earned the European Union’s praise for turning Greece’s troubled economy around but their strict economic policies have prompted labour unrest, with strikes and street protests almost a weekly feature.
But despite public discontent, they have been ahead of the opposition — weakened by infighting — in opinion polls.
A debate on a motion of no confidence tabled by the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) continued for a second day in Parliament on Saturday, with MPs on all sides jostling for a chance to address the house. It will end at midnight on Sunday with a roll-call vote.
The debate began in began in Parliament on Friday, just hours after it was tabled by PASOK leader George Papandreou, who at the same time demanded early elections. He also announced that his party’s MPs were withdrawing from the debate on revision of the Constitution.
Leading the debate, speakers for PASOK accused the government of flouting the Constitution and Parliamentary procedure and hinted at involvement in financial scandals.
PASOK MP for Thessaloniki Evangelos Venizelos accused the government of “demeaning and trivializing” democratic procedures and said there was an issue “Constitutional legality”.
He was referring, in particular, to an incident on Wednesday when the government’s proposal for revising article 24 of the Constitution was nearly passed by a Parliamentary committee without the required number of votes when New Democracy Parliamentary group secretary Apostolos Stavrou was counted among the voters, even though he was not actually a committee member.
The irregularity was pointed out by opposition MPs and a recount showed that the proposal did not have the required backing among ND deputies on the Committee. The Committee’s vote is not binding, however, and the proposal can still be presented before the full Parliament.
“The day before yesterday we witnessed a flagrant attempt to falsify an electoral result, blackmail and pressure against ND MPs that dared to vote according to their conscience,” Venizelos said.
PASOK MP Theodoros Pangalos slammed Parliament President Anna Psarouda-Benaki for saying that those in charge of the proceedings were “momentarily carried away” to descibe what he called an attempt to “falsify Parliament’s verdict during a debate on revising the Constitution”.
He also hinted at major financial scandals that he said PASOK would “not allow to be buried”.
“A ring of your party officials, a ring that was extremely close to your ministers, were installed in the depths of the Competition Commission, from where control of the economy should be exercised. They were uncovered – and you hurried to either cover up or reward them,” Pangalos said.
The MP also accused the government of mis-spending state funds through moves like the purchase of Turkey’s Finansbank at what he said was five times its actual value, or the acquisition of the retail electronic goods chain Germanos, hinting that certain quarters had received lavish kickbacks from the two deals.
Interior and Public Administration Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, as the government’s chief rapporteur in the debate over the motion, lambasted Papandreou’ move and charged that it was an attempt to solve his internal party problems.
“Does anyone seriously believe the reasoning behind the tabling of PASOK’s no confidence motion? … Does anyone believe the reasons for its submission, other than to solve internal party problems?” Pavlopoulos underlined from Parliament’s podium.
According to Pavlopoulos, the reasons cited by PASOK absolutely do not justify such a motion — which, if successful, will result in the calling of general elections.
Moreover, Pavlopoulos directly charged that PASOK’s motion is no more than “cover” for abstaining from the entire revision process in Parliament, thereby preventing the presence of its deputies from a vote allowing the possible revision of controversial Article 16 — so as to lift current prohibitions on establishing non-state universities in the country — and thus avoiding political fallout from a split PASOK vote.
Papandreou has repeatedly voiced his support for revising Article 16, whereas a handful of PASOK MPs — including one of the two PASOK rapporteurs on Friday, Evangelos Venizelos — oppose attempts to allow non-state higher education institutions in the country.
“PASOK is leaving because debate and a vote by Parliament’s plenum would be painful for PASOK,” Pavlopoulos said, while stressing that Papandreou has now crossed over to Venizelos’ position.
The minister, a noted constitutional law expert by training, also pointed to PASOK’s overall history — as he claimed — of walking out of Parliament during crucial votes, pointing to its abstention from debate on the first post-dictatorship constitution of 1975; its exit from the chamber during a vote to ratify Greece’s accession to the European Union before 1980 and a PASOK government’s declaration of early elections in 1996, a decision he said scuttled constitutional revision at the time.
As per Article 16, Pavlopoulos said PASOK cannot perpetually avoid its responsibilities. “If it avoids them now, it will not avoid them after the elections, because they may avoid internal friction for the time being, but won’t they have to express their position after the election regarding Article 16?” he rhetorically asked.
Finally, Pavlopoulos said PASOK has the temerity to demand early elections without having yet unveiled its own election programme.
“The only thing Mr. Papandreou has achieved is to ruin his deputies’ weekend,” he concluded.
Taking the stand, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga said that PASOK’s no confidence motion would be a “great fiasco”.
According to Papariga, it would result in a systematic effort to impose the 24-hour domination of forced dilemmas that called for either reforms or chaos, on the one hand, and elections or chaos, on the other.
“It is an opportunity for thought by the people, farmers, pensioners, those who are engaged in struggle, to exert mass, dynamic pressure and to create situations of mass counterattack. In this process, when partisanship peaks, the element of hope is the people’s intervention,” she said.
According to Papariga, ruling New Democracy was “fulfilling its pre-election pledges with very great consistency,” while PASOK’s opposition, in its attempt to slide out of its commitments, cover up its agreement with the government and serve the interests of big capital, was a “joke”
“I cannot choose which one is the best representative of capital,” Papariga concluded.
Former Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) leader Nikos Constantopoulos noted from Parliament’s podium that Friday’s ʽno confidence’ motion, is a “supreme Parliamentary act.?
“From our part, we will try to contribute to this process so that it remains on a proper level. We claim our right to state our opinions,? Constantopoulos said, speaking as his party’s rapporteur during the debate on the no confidence motion.
“We will not allow anyone to classify us with anyone else … SY.RI.ZA (another name for Synaspismos) does not table its views to be judged by any other party; we’re not interested in ND’s or PASOK’s assessment…” he said.