Greek government wins confidence vote

More than half of parliamentary lawmakers back Antonis Samaras’ government ahead of tough Eurozone meeting.

Greek PM Antonis Samaras
Antonis Samaras's government stumbled off to a rocky start but has won a confidence vote in parliament [Reuters]

Greece’s new conservative-led government has won parliamentary approval, but still faces the much tougher task of convincing its European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to give it more time to meet the terms of its bailout.

There had been little doubt the government would sail through the confidence vote on Monday after a heated three-day debate in which it pledged to win back the trust of foreign lenders. All 179 ruling coalition deputies backed the motion in the 300-seat parliament.

After demanding a long list of changes to Greece’s latest rescue package when it took power last month, the three-party coalition has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, as it faces the prospect of running out of cash without more aid.

It pledged to push through privatisations and long-discussed structural reforms, saying those were the first steps to regaining credibility with lenders.

“We don’t want to change the targets of the bailout, but that which is causing recession and hampering us from attaining those goals,” Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a speech before the vote. “We have been saying the same thing repeatedly all along: the only way to avoid bankruptcy, and an exit from the euro, is through growth and investments.”

Samara’s opposition, the radical Syriza group, wants the bailout torn up.

“The bailout is a political and economic crime imposed on the country by the troika,” Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, told parliament during the debate on Sunday.

“You are not pro-Europeans, you are Merkelists. Berlin will lead Europe to dissolution,” he told the government, referring to German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is deeply unpopular in Greece for demanding austerity cuts.

Bigger battles ahead

Finance minister Yannis Stournaras says he has already been warned by visiting officials from the lenders that he will face a difficult time at a Monday meeting of European finance ministers.

He has tried to lower Greek expectations of a swift overhaul of the harsh austerity terms included in the bailout.

Samaras’ government, which stumbled off to a rocky start when both he and his initial pick for finance minister were laid low by medical problems, will have to juggle strident demands from home and abroad.

Faced with deep anger against wage and spending cuts in the 130bn ($160bn) euro bailout, Samaras has promised long-suffering voters that the punishing terms of the rescue will be softened.

But with Greece facing bankruptcy within weeks without its next tranche of aid, the government has had to promise that the country will stick to its prescribed path of austerity in the hope of convincing lenders it deserves more time, money and flexibility.

Stournaras sought to reassure some of the concerns of the so-called troika of European Union, European Central Bank and IMF lenders by pledging to jumpstart a stalled privatisation plan and implement structural reforms.

Officials from the troika, who were wrapping up a visit to Athens on Sunday by meeting government officials, are unlikely to be impressed until they see proof of Greece’s commitment to reform.

The senior troika officials are due to return towards the end of the month for more substantial discussions on Greece’s faltering progress in hitting its targets, before deciding whether to disburse the next installment of aid.

Athens has acknowledged it is off-track in keeping up with its bailout pledges, which it blames largely on a deeper than expected recession and a two-month political limbo due to repeat elections in May and June.

Debt-laden Greece is now in its fifth year of recession, with nearly one out of four out of work.

Source: News Agencies