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9th Aug 2020

All eyes on Greece as presidential elections begin

  • Could Tsipras (c) become the next Greek prime minister? (Photo: Daniele Vico)

Greek parliamentarians are gathering on Wednesday (17 December) for a first attempt to elect the country's president, with EU officials concerned about the prospect of early parliamentary elections and a possible sweep to power by the far-left Syriza party.

Centre-right Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is counting on 155 MPs in the 300-strong parliament, but he needs to secure the backing of at least 25 independents for his candidate, former EU commissioner Stavros Dimas, to win.

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But so far, fewer than 10 have declared support for his presidential candidate.

A second round is expected to be held on 23 December.

If three consecutive attempts to elect the president fail by 29 December, the parliament will be dissolved and fresh parliamentary elections have to take place, with the anti-austerity Syriza party polling first.

On Tuesday, Samaras appealed to the Greek parliament not to jeopardise the future of the country, just as it is negotiating an exit from its painful economic bailout programme.

"Greeks demand that we fight united, to safeguard everything we achieved with bloody sacrifices in the last few years, and lead them safely to finally exit the crisis," Samaras said in a statement.

EU officials in the past few days have all but told Greek politicians not to open the door to Syriza coming to power.

EU economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici in a press conference in Athens on Tuesday said the commission will respect all democratic decisions of the country "but of course we have our preference". He added that whoever comes to power should make sure Greece stays in the eurozone.

The commissioner also said that both he and EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker "are your allies" and have always wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone, even in their previous lives - as French finance minister and Eurogroup chief, respectively.

Asked why he did not meet Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras while in Athens, Moscovici said he was willing to meet him in Brussels "in the coming weeks and months", if Tsipras wants to see him.

Syriza, for its part, has accused EU officials of scaremongering. In a debate on Tuesday in Strasbourg, EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker had to explain his remarks last week about avoiding "extreme forces" coming to power.

Juncker argued that he meant the far-right, which he "hates" and did not see why the Syriza MEPs were so up in arms about it. "Are you defending the far-right?" he asked them.

Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas also tried to relativise Juncker's statements last week, noting that "there is ample room for interpretation on what a known face is."

Greek PM offers compromise on elections

Samaras has offered to bring forward parliamentary elections and include independent MPs in government in a bid to secure a majority for his presidential candidate.

Greece in last attempt to elect president

The Greek parliament on Monday will have a last attempt at electing a new president or face snap general elections that could sweep the anti-bailout far-left into power.

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