Greece’s ruling parties fell short of the required supermajority in parliament to elect the country’s next president on Wednesday, raising the possibility of early elections that could bring the radical Syriza party to power.
The defeat was not unexpected and two more voting rounds are due to be called later this month before parliament would need to be dissolved.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whose left-right coalition commands a five-seat majority in parliament, needs at least 25 votes from the opposition to elect his candidate, the former European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.
The Democratic Left, which quit the government last year, and the right-wing Independent Greeks had both announced their intention to block Dimas before the vote. “Clearly this result means early elections,” said Panos Kammenos, the leader of the Independent Greeks, later.
The government does not expect to get support from the other opposition parties: the Communists, the far-left Syriza party and the fascist Golden Dawn.
The Greek presidency is a ceremonial position but failure to elect one would trigger snap elections. Syriza is currently leading the polls.
The prime minister has warned of “catastrophic” consequences if his government should fall. Syriza calls this scaremongering and is confident other European Union member states will not kick Greece out of the euro if it tears up its bailout agreements.
The party vows to stop budget consolidation if it comes to power and write off part of Greece’s debt. It also opposes the liberal economic reforms Samaras’ government has enacted under pressure from other European countries.
Since a 2012 restructuring of its privately-held debt, Greece owes almost 90 percent of its debt to official creditors, mainly other eurozone governments.
Since 2010, the country has received two bailouts worth €240 billion in total. It wants to switch back to market financing from the start of next year.
Greece has been slow to enact the liberalizations it promised under the bailout agreements but its economy is improving. Although a quarter of Greeks is still out of work, the unemployment rate is falling. The economy is growing for the first time since 2007. Excluding one-off expenditures to recapitalize its banks, Greece’s deficit equaled just over 2 percent of gross domestic product last year, down from nearly 16 percent at the height of the crisis in 2009.
The slow pace of reform has nevertheless underwhelmed countries in especially the north of Europe which would be reluctant to continue to support Greece if a Syriza-led government reversed the economic and fiscal policy changes made in the last few years.