It is nothing but ironic that the once-mighty conservative New Democracy party celebrated its 40th anniversary amidst a whirlwind of public disaffection, internal arguments, a second-place running in the polls and an electorate spiraling to less than 20% of all Greeks. Meanwhile, the ruling party ushered in its fourth decade by pleading for a vote of confidence from the Greek Parliament.
Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras recently spoke before all prominent party members, old and new, sending messages of unity, speaking like he still retains the support of New Democracy’s millions of former supporters, promising brighter days ahead for Greece and the party. And, naturally, he attacked opposition party SYRIZA, accusing them of recklessness and serving up false promises to the Greek people.
That last gesture was a strategic move for Samaras, who will ask the Greek Parliament for a vote of confidence on Wednesday. There are a number of independent MPs who will cast key votes this week, among them a number of conservatives who will probably give their vote of confidence to the present government in order to stall SYRIZA’s call for premature elections.
The presence of Konstantinos Mitsotakis, Kostas Karamanlis and Theodoros Roussopoulos – all ND stalwarts who have never concealed their disdain for Samaras’ leadership in the past – is an indication that the PM has succeeded in his goal of unifying the party. It is certain that even the few New Democracy MPs who openly disagree with some of the austerity measures, will follow the party line and vote in favor of the government.
At this point, asking for a vote of confidence has proved a clever move for the coalition government. By doing so, they prevented SYRIZA from submitting a motion of censure. In their war with SYRIZA, the New Democracy and PASOK leaders have decided to fight within the walls of the Greek Parliament. Here, they have the upper hand: 154 votes from ND and PASOK MPs, plus a few tentative votes from independents. This is a counter-attack after the lost battle in the polls. It is all-too-obvious that Greek society as a whole would not be giving its vote of confidence to the present government.
By asking the 300 MPs for their vote of confidence, the coalition government wants to show that it has parliamentary approval to continue with the measures and reforms the international creditors demand. It is the simple logic that, if the people’s representatives trust that the government is capable of doing its job, the people trust them, too. Even with a thin majority in the house of representatives, Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos will show the government’s strength and determination to do all that is necessary to exit the economic crisis, despite internal and external pressure.
Much remains to be done before the end of the year: The parliament has to vote on the 2015 budget, on tax reliefs, on public sector layoffs, on pension reforms, on union laws and so on. All these are prerequisites the Troika has strapped to the ongoing negotiations regarding the sovereign debt. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras accuses Samaras and Venizelos of being incapable and unwilling to negotiate with the lenders. He insists that, by continuing the Troika’s policies, Greece sinks deeper into an economic and social abyss. He demands elections now, claiming that “only the people can give a vote of confidence to a government.” This political cliche doesn’t amount to much, but the truth is that no government ever asked for a vote of confidence from the parliament in order to pass legislations in favor of the people.
Another battle the coalition government has to fight is the election of the President of the Hellenic Republic in February. The vote of confidence is a useful weapon for that battle, too. SYRIZA is pushing for elections now because Tsipras knows that it is impossible for the Samaras-Venizelos government to get the 180 votes they need to elect a President from the present parliament. By securing the vote of confidence, the present government can postpone the Presidential election until February and win valuable time.
The political cost of such a move may also prove deadly for a government. If the parliament gives a vote of confidence to the government and it then passes legislations against the people’s interest, then the parliament gets discredited and, in the eyes of the electorate, MPs are seen as a cast of individuals who only care about their political careers and salaries. History shows that it is the last line of defense for an unpopular government.
Let’s not forget that in November 4, 2011, then Prime Minister George Papandreou went to the parliament and asked for a vote of confidence. He got 153 votes in favor and 145 against. Two days later, he was forced to resign. And out of the 160 PASOK MPs in 2009, only 41 remained six months after his resignation.