Greek PM Tsipras narrowly survives confidence vote amid Macedonia name change spat

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
ATHENS
Published 26.01.2019 15:38
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, attends a parliamentary session in Athens, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, attends a parliamentary session in Athens, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP Photo)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday survived a confidence vote after a row over a landmark name deal with Macedonia sunk his four-year coalition.

A total of 151 lawmakers supported Tsipras' government, including several independent MPs, the official count showed.

"The government today asks for a vote of confidence, which is tantamount to a vote for stability and the country's political credibility on the European and global stage," Tsipras told the chamber ahead of the vote.

"We will win and we will carry on," he said.

Despite the victory, the subsequent fate of Tsipras' government -- and whether he will complete his four-year term which ends in September -- is unclear.

He now faces an immediate challenge to also push through parliament the controversial name deal with neighboring Macedonia, which has sparked protests in both countries.

In a speech to parliament, the 44-year-old leftist leader on Tuesday insisted his government "has another nine months and very important tasks to carry out," pointing to elections in October.

Among his goals are a revision of the constitution, a minimum wage increase and the completion of a property deal with the church that was recently blocked by senior bishops.

"We do not seek (the support of) 151 lawmakers just to complete our term, but in order to carry out specific political initiatives," government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told Open TV on Wednesday.

Yet many Greeks think the elections could take place earlier than October and may even be called to coincide with European and local elections in May, if not sooner.

Coalition in crisis

Another protest will be held in Athens on Sunday against the agreement with Skopje to rename the country the Republic of North Macedonia.

Main opposition leader Kyriakos Misotakis of the New Democracy conservatives called Tsipras a "fortune-hunter" and "cheap demagogue" who had built a career on lies.

"You took power with lies, managed it with lies, and will leave it will lies," he said.

"You've dealt enough damage to the country...you see your end approaching," Mitsotakis, who leads Tsipras in opinion polls, told leftist MPs.

The name-change deal aims to resolve a 27-year diplomatic dispute, but it broke up Tsipras' coalition with the nationalist ANEL party at the weekend, ending their four-year partnership.

Macedonian lawmakers last week approved the deal, but it will only come into effect if it is also backed by the Greek parliament.

Athens has not given a date for the vote on the Macedonia deal, but Tsipras recently said it would be before the end of January.

The European Union and NATO have hailed the agreement which would lift Greek objections to Macedonia joining both organizations.

"We think the Prespes agreement is in the interests of Greece and its neighbors, that it's a historical achievement... (of) strategic importance," EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Moscovici, on a visit to Athens, told reporters of the deal which is named after the Prespa Lakes where it was signed.

"We hope the agreement will be supported and implemented."

"Europe is about bringing people together. It's about creating reconciliation. It is about also curing the wounds of yesterday," Moscovici said earlier Wednesday.

- Alexander the Great's territory -

The proposal faces resistance in Greece because of what critics see as the implied claims to Greek land and cultural heritage.

For most Greeks, Macedonia is the name of their history-rich northern province made famous by Alexander the Great's conquests.

In many cities in northern Greece, posters were put up overnight to urge local lawmakers to vote against the deal.

ANEL chief Panos Kammenos, Tsipras' former coalition partner, on Wednesday said the issue should be put to a referendum.

Much will depend on the stance of small pro-EU party To Potami, whose position hardened this week after Tsipras poached one of their lawmakers.

"You may have found 151 lawmakers for the confidence vote but you will not find 151 to back the (Macedonia) deal," the party's parliamentary spokesman Panos Amyras told the government on Wednesday.

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