Greece: Momentum for Samaras

Published on December 22, 2014

The Greek parliament will conduct a second round of voting tomorrow to approve Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ nominee for President, Stavros Dimas, after the failure as expected to elect him in the first round. Under Greek electoral rules the second round will require 200 yes votes out of the parliament’s 300 delegates to pass, and that is simply not going to happen.

Tomorrow’s defeat will guarantee a showdown on December 29 on the third and final round of votes requiring a lowered, 180-seat threshold for passage.  And whether Samaras’ choice is approved on that date or not will determine if the country will indeed be forced into early elections by the hard left Syriza party, with an assist from a broader anti-austerity opposition movement, most likely on January 25.

*** The most reliable vote count predictions we have heard for tomorrow’s round estimate Samaras and his 155 member New Democracy/Pasok coalition may collect a modest but respectable tally of around 170 votes, adding roughly 10  votes to the first round’s 160. This will show progress, but still fall well short of the 180 needed for passage in the final round. ***

*** The leadership of the small opposition parties DIMAR (Democratic Left) and ANEL (Independent Greeks), the support of a few of whose current or former members Samaras will need to clear that 180 threshold, have if anything doubled down on their calls to reject the Presidential candidate and force early general elections. Allegations of a recent bribery attempt of an Independent Greek delegate by an agent of the coalition government for his vote, however, appear to have gained little if any traction, if not even backfired, on the opposition. ***

*** More importantly, Samaras’ latest compromise offer to hold elections in late 2015, rather than mid-2016 when his term ends, as a concession for passing and clearing the December 29 Presidential vote hurdle and avoiding the prospect of an immediate and destabilizing vote in January, while late and hinting at desperation, will nevertheless provide enough cover for a few more independent delegates to vote for the President on December 29 even if they do not reveal their cards tomorrow. Whether that will be enough to push Samaras over 180 is still a tough call, but what was looking like an apparent loss on December 29 is now if anything a toss-up. ***

*** Furthermore, perhaps less appreciated in the immediate attention around the parliamentary vote counting, even if Samaras fails to get Dimas approved, the fact of his having offered the compromise will now play well in a general election. Namely, it will help in efforts to paint Syriza and its leader Alexis Tsipras as the party of instability and hardline intransigence against Samaras, a contrast Samaras will be happy to run on. ***

Small Shifts in Underlying Polls

Much, perhaps too much, has been made of a very small narrowing of what has been a consistent 4-5% point lead Syriza has held over New Democracy consistently for months to the current 3% or so.

The very fact that despite the severe shock in Greek markets and for all the support the EU has promised to offer a stable Greek government (for good or bad), an unabashed partisan vote of support for Samaras, Syriza still holds to a relatively consistent lead across most polls is a bit troubling.

The stronger, and more telling, shift appears to be in the polling of Greeks on whether they are supportive of early elections or not. That polling has shifted significantly over the last month or so, from roughly 50:50 to about 60:40 against early elections.

Informed Greek political observers note that this may reflect a slow stirring of the disillusioned “silent majority” of Greeks that would vote for stability rather than the more motivated radical opposition that turn out in both the votes and show up in party preference polling numbers.

And the key turnout from this electorate is where Samaras’ compromise offer of earlier elections, even if it fails to win him the 180 delegate votes on December 29, will come into play.

Confirming that slight momentum shift is what little bit of a narrowing there has been of the gap between Syriza and New Democracy has come from a bump up in ND numbers, rather than from a slide in Syriza, whose supporters are after all motivated and faithful.

Samaras of course would rather avoid early elections altogether, and here the fate of the 180 votes hinges increasingly on what has become a highly erratic Independent Greek party and leadership.

Conspiracy theories are a-swirl in Athens over the attempted bribery of an Independent Greek delegate, who claims to have wiretapped a “mediator” connected to the PASOK offering him a comprehensive package worth “between two and three million Euros” to vote for Dimas. That includes theories that it was the IG (ANEL) leadership itself that set up its delegates as a warning shot to others who might have been tempted to break ranks and vote with Samaras.

But the biggest driver for the wavering ANEL deputies will be in the polls, and not the threat of the scandal.

If polls show that ANEL could clear the 3% threshold required for their party’s parliamentary representation, it may encourage delegates to stick to the anti-austerity party platform and leadership and vote against Samaras. If on the other hand ANEL slips further in the polls, it may encourage wavering delegates to defect and throw in their towel with Samaras.

It is a close call, but even as Syriza maintains its lead in the polls, Samaras appears for now to be inching slowly back.

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