By Andy Dabilis
Besieged at home and abroad by critics blasting his idea for a referendum on accepting more international bailout loans to stave off bankruptcy, Prime Minister George Papandreou abandoned the idea and offered the chance to build an interim coalition government.
After a bewildering day of volatile political developments, Papandreou faces a vote of confidence in parliament Friday (November 4th), as well as a growing rebellion within his PASOK party.
The media briefly reported Papandreou was ready to resign, but he instead offered his hand to Conservative New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras to join him in a unity government ahead of a new election.
“He apparently overplayed his hand, but this may all have been a bluff for Samaras to get a coalition government,” Athens’ Panteion University Professor Marios Evriviades told SETimes.
University of Athens Professor Kostas Ifantis argues Papandreou’s referendum move was political posturing. “It was a very ill-advised course of action without a rationale. [The referendum] was a political trick. Except, there was no good coming out of it,” Ifantis told SETimes.
On Friday, reports indicated that the New Democracy party will not enter talks with PASOK about an interim government if Papandreou wins the confidence vote.
“The only hope for the country is for PASOK’s parliamentary group to deny the government a majority in tonight’s vote,” New Democracy MP Nikos Dendias told Skai radio.
The Greek political debate led to significant frustration and anger among EU leaders.
Eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker said Greece must decide whether to take the loans and stand by the deal or face the possibility of leaving the eurozone and even the EU.
“We can not ride a permanent roller coaster with Greece,” Juncker said.
“We need to know where we are headed and the Greeks need to tell us where they want to go … everything must be done to prevent one euro member unlatching itself from the chain, but if that were the wish of the Greeks … then we can not force them to their happiness.”
Greece is surviving on 109 billion euros from a first bailout that begun 18 months ago. The attached austerity measures reportedly deepened the recession. Unemployment is conservatively estimated at 17% and more than 100,000 businesses have been closed.
While negotiations between the two major parties continued into the night, Samaras held out hope there might be a consensus, especially after he withdrew his once vehement opposition to the bailouts.
“The new government that will emerge from this election will unite the people … so that the country can come out of the crisis,” he said.
But it was evident that much frustration remained over what has become a Greek tragedy and comedy at the same time.
“It is a difficult situation. He should go away … he has created a big mess,” Dimitris Hatzinikolaou, a professor of economics at the University of Ioannina in northern Greece told SETimes.
“We should repudiate the debt because we cannot pay it; otherwise we cannot survive,” he said.