Greek PM Survives Confidence Vote; Says He's Ready To Form Coalition Govt.
(Note that we've re-written the headline and lede of this post to reflect the latest news.)
To cap a dramatic week, in which the Greek prime minister angered both his European Union partners and his own political party, George Papandreou survived a vote of confidence.
The AP reports that his Socialist party backed him with 153 votes — out of 300 — in his favor.
Addressing the Parliament in Athens minutes before they were set to vote on his future, Papandreou, who had been pressured to resign, said snap elections for the country would be a "catastrophe." As the AP reported, the prime minister also promised to start "powersharing talks to form a caretaker government, declaring his willingness to step aside if needed..."
The big news here is that it looks like Greece's government has coalesced and will have sufficient votes to OK the European Union bailout before the country runs out of money and defaults on its obligations.
Papandreou's victory means that the threat of the government collapsing has receded. Defeat would have meant immediate elections, and the real danger that the €8bn aid tranche would not be paid in time to avoid a default.
Instead, Papandreou is now cleared to carry on with the plan he outlined in his speech a couple of hours ago — to visit the Greek president and start the process of creating a 'unity government'.
Our Original Post And Earlier Updates Follow:
It will cap a week full of intense international drama: Sometime after midnight, or 6 p.m. ET, Greece's parliament will vote on whether Prime Minister George Papandreou has their confidence.
As The New York Times reports, the repercussions of the vote could be felt acorss the globe and "be a turning point for the future of the euro zone, with major ramifications for the world economy."
If you remember, Greece is facing a mounting debt crisis. In late October, Papandreou and his Socialist Party came to a bailout agreement with the European Union. The E.U. would provide money for the country to pay its bills and in exchange the country would implement a tough set of austerity measures.
On Tuesday, Papandreou threw world markets into turmoil when he announced he would let the Greek people decide whether to accept the bailout terms. Papandreou was called into emergency meetings with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday and after arm twisting and a mutiny from his own party, Papandreou announced, yesterday,he was scrapping plans for a referendum.
So where do we stand today? The bailout plan still needs to be approved by parliament and Greece has said it could run out of money anytime this month. Papandreou has a two-vote majority, but it's not at all clear, whether he will survive the vote.
The bottom line: Greece's government is in chaos, yet it needs to act quickly to avoid defaulting. Here's how the AP sets it up:
If the deal stalls, Greece will not get the next 8 billion euros ($11 billion) installment of its loans and will probably go bankrupt before Christmas.
Polls indicate the Greek public is close to the breaking point after more than 20 months of harsh austerity cuts and tax hikes. Near-daily strikes and protests have often degenerated into riots. Recent opinion surveys show 90 percent of Greeks oppose Papandreou's policies and his party has just 20 percent public support.
Outside parliament, an estimated 7,000 protesters held an anti-government rally Friday.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli spoke to All Things Considered host Guy Raz and she said there is no way to know which way this vote will go. "The situation is extremely confused," she said.
One thing that is working in Greece's favor, Sylvia said, is that the opposition party has now said they would support the bailout.
Update at 7:20 p.m. ET. A Bit Of Greek Politics:
The AP reports that Papandreou's PASOK Socialist party actually widened its majority by one vote, after a lawmaker who had voted against the bailout in the past voted in Papandreou's favor.
The AP adds:
Louka Katseli, a former labour minister, was admitted back to the ruling party's parliamentary group after being expelled last month over her vote against part of Greece's latest austerity bill. She was brought back after she voted in favour of a confidence motion in parliament on Friday. The PASOK party now has a majority of 153 seats in the 300-seat parliament.
Update at 6:54 p.m. ET. Papandreou Wins Confidence Vote:
With a 153 votes, Papandreou has won the vote of confidence.
Update at 6:41 p.m. ET. A Little More From Papandreou's Speech:
As we wait for the voting to end, the AP has a bit more from Papandreou's speech earlier:
Papandreou said his main interest was to stabilize the country's economy, and he was open to negotiation as to who would lead the new government.
"We must proceed in an organized way. And regardless of developments, the country must be governed tomorrow without turbulence," he said.
"I seek the vote of confidence tonight to safeguard a steady course for the country with no power vacuum, without being dragged to election."
Update at 6:35 p.m. ET. Vote Underway:
The vote is underway. The Press Project in Greece is keeping tally live. It's a roll call vote in which all 300 MPs are called.
Update at 6:03 p.m. ET. Snap Elections Would A 'Catastrophe:'
Minutes before Paliament was set to vote on his future, Papandreou said snap elections for the country would be a "catastrophe." The AP reports the prime minister also promised to start "powersharing talks to form a caretaker government, declaring his willingness to step aside if needed..."
The Guardian, which is live blogging the speech and vote, reports Papandreou ended his speech asking for parliament's vote of confidence. Papandreou received a standing ovation.
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