The government has won the confidence vote that it demanded with an absolute majority of 151 votes (including Independent Greeks MPs and one former To Potami MP), but the upcoming ratification of the Greece-FYROM Prespa Accord and the shift in stance of To Potami party is what is now causing unrest in the PM’s office.
In his speech, Potami MP Yorgos Amyras in parliament declared, “You will find the single vote needed in tonight’s confidence vote, but you willl not find 151 votes [to ratify] the Prespa Agreement”, and that is believed to have signaled that his party is re-examining its initial support for the Prespa Agreement.
Consequently, the government is for political reasons seeking out back-up MPs from other parties to ratify the Prespa Agreement with an absolute majority, even though it can be approved with fewer votes than an absolute majority.
In the agreement, Greece has undertaken to ratify the accord promptly after FYROM’s parliament amends its Constitution, as it did.
Meanwhile Russia is trying to thwart the agreement, citing a 1993 UNSG resolution stating that the UN Security Council, of which it is a veto-wielding permanent member, will review any solution.
Initially Tsipras was counting on four Potami MP to ratify the Prespa Accord: Spyros Danellis (now independent), party founder and president Stavros Theodorakis, party VP Yorgos Mavrotas, and Spiros Lykoudis (formerly a SYRIZA and then Democratic Left MP). Two others – Grigoris Psarianos and Yorgos Amyras had earlier said they will vote down the accord.
There are reports that the party will decide to abstain from the Prespa vote. The rationale would be that there is a need to denounce the methods to which the government resorted in order to forge a majority, including luring Danellis.
Theodorakis believes that this way he need not deny his early support for the agreement as he will not be rejecting the essence of the accord. Moreover, the abstention allows him to present an image of cohesion among the MPs left to him, after several left the party.
The Prespes Accord ratification
After Theodorakis’ decision to abstain, if he indeecd does so, it is believed the government still has a solid bloc of 149 MPs, two short of an absolute majority. That includes SYRIZA’s 145 MPs and then Danellis, Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, Thanasis Papachristopoulos, Vasilis Kokkalis, and Kostas Zouraris. Aside from Danellis all are or were Independent Greeks MPs and cadres.
After the vote, Tsipras said on national television that he intends to complete his term, which would mean holding the general election in October, 2019.
Democratic Left MP Thanasis Theocharopoulos will support the accord unless party discipline is imposed by party organs. They are expected to have decided by 20 January.
Consequently, the votes of Theodorakis, Mavrotas, and Lykoudis are crucial for reaching the 151 votes that the PM is seeking for ratification.
Tsipras has said an absolute majority is necessary to ensure legitimisation from the political point of view, even though the agreement can be ratified by a relative majority – the majority of those present during the vote. Hence, the 149 or 150 yeas that the government can muster theoretically suffice.
That means abstentions are also critical in determining the result.
Confidence vote lays groundwork for Prespes
Some analysts believe that the win in tonight’s confidence vote is indirectly a vote of confidence in the way the government handled the Greece-FYROM naming dispute.
Hence, the vote might be interpreted as somehow legitimising ratification by less than an absolute majority.
Tsipras and Zaev, the prime minister of FYROM, have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for concluding an agreement solving an intractable problem that has festered for over a quarter-century.
Early elections possible
If the government fails to garner 151 votes in the first draft legislation tabled after ratification, then it would be interpreted as meaning the government has lost its majority.
That would lead ineluctably to a snap general election.
Meanwhile, the US and the EU are pressuring in every way for the Prespa Agreement to be ratified by an absolute majority, so as to admit Skopje to Nato and for it to receive a date for beginning EU accession talks.
The absolute majority is also needed for international legitimisation at a time that Moscow is trying to undermine implementation of the agreement openly and in a variety of ways.
This was made abundantly clear during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens and in the praise and strong encouragement of Washington.
The vote poses a strong dilemma for the Potami party as it presents itself as dedicated to European unification and to co-shaping policy with key international organisations.