, ATHENS, Jul 9 – Greece’s coalition government breezed through a largely symbolic confidence vote, winning the tough mandate of tackling a two-year-old crisis and keeping the country safely in the eurozone.
After three days of tense parliamentary debate, 179 lawmakers out of the chamber’s 300 voted in favour of a centrist coalition led by conservative Prime Minster Antonis Samaras that has promised to ease austerity measures while still meeting demands of EU-IMF creditors.
The outcome of the vote was never really in doubt and aligned exactly with the 179 seats held by the Samaras-led coalition that unites his conservative New Democracy party with the socialist PASOK and the much smaller Democratic Left.
“You have followed the decisions of a three-party government that wants to proceed with reforms and change the country needs,” Samaras told deputies minutes before the vote.
“We must stay in the euro according to the verdict of the Greek people.” The Samaras cabinet must immediately tackle the mammoth task of turning crisis-wracked Greece around while keeping the trust of EU-IMF creditors who hold the power to keep the country’s finances afloat.
The government said its first goal, along with carrying through a raft of reforms and privatisations, will be to secure an extension to the tight budget deadlines set out in Greece’s second 130-billion-euro bailout plan.
But Greece’s new finance minister warned lawmakers Sunday that winning any kind of reprieve from lenders will not be easy as EU and IMF officials have shown stiff resistance to any talk of renegotiation, especially one that comes with a price tag.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said: “We will propose an extension of the deadline beyond 2014, but the difficulty is that it requires additional financing and therefore a consensus (in Europe).
“Greece has received until now the most aid ever given a country.”
Earlier Sunday Stournaras met for the second time with an auditor team from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which has been inspecting Greece’s finances all week.
Their conclusions, expected later this month, will help lenders decide whether to proceed with Greece’s current loan programme.
On Monday Stournaras heads to Brussels to attend a meeting of Eurogroup ministers which will be “a first exchange of views on what the intentions of the Greek government are”, according to an EU official.
On Friday an EU official warned that Greece will not receive its next tranche of bailout aid, reported to be 31.5 billion euros ($38.65 billion) on August 20 as scheduled, unless it continues implementing the required economic reforms.
In a Friday speech outlining the government’s policy, Samaras insisted Greece would push through delayed reforms, but would also request a break from its EU-IMF bailout terms to ease the burden on a country fed up with austerity.
“Our problem is not adopting reforms, which we will do without question. It is not reaching an objective, which we will meet. But it is finding an end to the recession,” the 61-year-old prime minister said.
The government said privatisations would be sped up, including all or portions of the electric and water utilities and the post office, and also airports, the national railway network and some hospitals.
In a bid to drum up investors, Stournaras has floated the idea of Greece accepting outstanding Greek debt bonds as payment for national assets.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the leftist Syriza party that came in a close second in a June election, accused the government of selling off state entities “like a real estate agent”.
“The government will have to account for its actions, the looting of public goods,” Tsipras said, accusing Samaras and his ministers of reneging on an electoral promise to revisit the bailout agreement.
He accused the prime minister of being “pro-Merkel”, complaining that Germany was “completely anti-European at the moment”.
Germany has insisted that Greece sticks to the commitments it has signed up to, although Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has indicated there could be some discussion of leeway on the timings.
A magazine poll published on Monday showed that nearly half of Germans think the eurozone would be better off without Greece.