Greek Politics in Turmoil After Prespa Agreement



Greek PM Alexis Tsipras with House Speaker Nikos Voutsis. File photo

When Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras managed to push the Prespa Agreement through the House by “borrowing” lawmakers from other parties, the repercussions end up turning parliamentary rules upside down.

Small parties were dismantled, others struggled to keep the minimum of five MPs needed to stay in Parliament, and coalitions broke up while former party lawmakers suddenly declared themselves independent.

The vote in favor of FYROM becoming “North Macedonia” literally obliterated junior coalition partner the Independent Greeks Party (ANEL) and made party leader Panos Kammenos the subject of ridicule for the opposition.

Perhaps in the strangest twist of all, the man who was threatening to take his MPs and leave the government if Tsipras brought the Prespa Agreement before the Greek parliament, did none of that, but actually supported Tsipras all the way.

To the last day before his obviously orchestrated resignation, Kammenos praised Tsipras as a successful prime minister who pulled Greece out of the third bailout program.

SYRIZA-friendly Sunday newspaper Documento had reported that Kammenos would resign and be replaced by General Chief of Staff Evangelos Apostolakis, which came to pass. This appeared to be proof of the fact that Kammenos’ resignation was orchestrated days before the defense minister quit.

Prime Minister Tsipras, on the other hand, seen as a master of political tactics, had already secured the votes of ANEL MPs for the Prespa deal. He had seemingly gained their loyalty by giving ministerial positions to three ANEL lawmakers.

Even when they were declaring that they opposed the deal with Skopje last June, come January their views had taken a 180-degree turn. Suddenly they had become convinced that Prespa would be beneficial for Greece.

The ANEL chief was forced to dismiss the defectors from his party, but he was left short of the five MPs needed to retain his party’s position in parliament. He finally managed to get former Centrists’ Union MP Aristides Fokas into his fold, although House regulations state that the minimum five MPs needed for a parliamentary group must have been elected as representatives of the same party.

To Potami literally disintegrated when several party MPs became so divided on the issue that Spyros Danellis joined SYRIZA. Giorgos Amyras and Grigoris Psarianos took off for the other direction, siding with main opposition party New Democracy.

House Speaker suggests bending parliament regulations

After the Prespa Agreement vote, the Greek parliament began to operate against its own rules. Firstly, SYRIZA, with 145 MPs, does not have a majority in the 300-seat House. Tsipras received his vote of confidence from 151 lawmakers, receiving the support of four ANEL lawmakers, one from To Potami. The other was from a former New Democracy MP who Tsipras had – cleverly – appointed deputy minister for citizen protection in the latest cabinet reshuffle.

When lawmakers who were chosen by voters to represent them, betray them by switching to other parties representing completely different political ideologies, it appears to be a breach of House ethics. And this happened repeatedly during the past three weeks.

Danellis left center-left To Potami for the leftist SYRIZA Party, Katerina Papakosta left the  conservative New Democracy party to become independent and was rewarded by the prime minister by being named the deputy minister for citizen protection.

Fokas left the Centrists’ Union to become independent, but when ANEL was in need of a fifth parliamentary member, he joined the right-wing party. Other MPs did the same during the four years of SYRIZA-ANEL rule. Do any of the people who switched parties with such ease feel any moral obligation to their voters? The question is rhetorical.

Recent Parliamentary sessions were nothing but travesties. Lawmakers avoided important decisions, using ridiculous excuses such as drinking a soft drink and having to go to the toilet during the vote, as in the case of Aristides Fokas. Then his leader, Kammenos, went on television and bragged that he was the one who told Fokas to use that excuse to boycott the vote.

Thanasis Papachristopoulos also made a mockery of Parliamentary rules in the House. The ANEL lawmaker gave a vote of confidence to the government and supported the Prespa agreement with his vote, stating that he would resign and give up his seat.

However, the day Papachristopoulos was to resign, he did not show up, claiming that his car had broken down and he couldn’t get to Parliament.

Then on Friday, Papachristopoulos met with Speaker Nikos Voutsis and decided to delay his resignation, claiming that Voutsis had implored him to stay on for five more days, until the NATO accession bill for North Macedonia came up for ratification in the House.

If the ANEL lawmaker’s claim is true, then the House speaker violated parliamentary regulations. Nevertheless, the ANEL MP stated that it would be an honor for him if he was called by SYRIZA to join the party.

Opposition fires at House Speaker, insinuations of blackmail

After the problems created with ANEL and To Potami – which, according to current House regulations, are about to lose their parliamentary group status – the House Speaker sought to change regulations in order for them to stay. It is obvious that SYRIZA needs both parties in Parliament because their MPs will give them the votes needed for passing future legislation.

At the same time, SYRIZA would avoid accusations that they are a minority government which clings to power by using “spare parts” from other parties, thus bending the rules.  The Maximos Mansion line is that everything, including Voutsis’ machinations, must be done in order to protect the small parties and maintain polyphony in the Greek parliament.

On Monday, Voutsis was expected to bring forth a proposition to change articles 15 and 16 of parliamentary regulations in order to throw a life jacket to Kammenos and ANEL. The move has already drawn fire from the opposition.

The New Democracy and Movement for Change parties insinuate that Kammenos is blackmailing the prime minister who, in exchange, has promised him to let his party remain in Parliament, thus saving his former partner’s political career.

The Speaker defended the government, claiming that his aim is not to change House regulations, but help boost small parties and grant more power to party leaders. The argument does not seem to convince the opposition, who are determined to fight Voutsis’ proposal.

However, late on Monday morning, before the parliamentary committee on House regulations was to convene, the prime minister sent a letter to the president of the Parliament telling him to stop any action which would change the existing regulations.

In the letter, Tsipras claims that no one is blackmailing him and that he would not not allow anyone to slander him in any way. Therefore, in order to avoid any insinuations, he asks the House Speaker to block the initiative to change parliamentary regulations.

Meanwhile, a new poll published on Monday shows that 69 percent of Greek citizens believe that the Prespa Agreement would not be beneficial for the country. Previous polls saw 62 percent of Greeks opposing the deal.