ATHENS: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday faced a new test of his authority in parliament, where lawmakers were to vote on a second batch of reforms to help unlock a bailout for Greece’s stricken economy.
The embattled premier last week faced a revolt by a fifth of the MPs in his radical-left Syriza party over changes to taxes, pensions and labor rules demanded by Greece’s EU-IMF creditors.
Tsipras had to rely on opposition MPs to approve the law, a key condition for opening talks on a three-year bailout worth up to 86 billion euros ($93 billion).
The second bill covers civil justice reforms, public auctions, and moves to shore up the liquidity of the nation’s banks, which only just reopened on Monday after a three-week closure that was imposed to avert a bank run and a catastrophic collapse of the financial system.
The law also covers an EU directive that guarantees bank deposits up to 100,000 euros ($108,000), and is expected to pass after opposition parties said they would back it.
But analysts say the debate will show whether Tsipras can avoid another deep split within his own party and head off the risk of early elections after only six months in power.
The prime minister received a boost Tuesday when Standard & Poor’s raised its credit rating on Greece by two notches to CCC+ from CCC-, still in junk territory but a step in the right direction.
On Wednesday Tsipras met with executives from the banks, which have seen some 40 billion euros withdrawn since December by customers anxious over the safety of their deposits, seriously damaging their ability to function normally.
“The priority right now is to normalize the (financial) system, but at the same time to protect low-income citizens,” state news agency ANA quoted Tsipras as saying.
No intention of ‘early polls’
Parliamentary committees were debating the second bailout bill on Wednesday ahead of a full sitting of the 300 lawmakers late in the afternoon with a vote expected around midnight.
Civil servants’ union ADEDY and the communist-affiliated PAME union have called for protests during the emergency debate.
For Tsipras, who came to power on an anti-austerity ticket, the bailout deal has been hard to swallow — but he insisted at a meeting with colleagues on Tuesday that there was “no alternative solution”.
He reshuffled his cabinet just before the weekend, making nine changes, after the party rebellion.
Vassiliki Georgiadis, a political science professor at Athens’ Panteion University, said the split within Syriza was between hard-left MPs — “some of whom have spoken of a Greek exit from the eurozone as the only solution” — and those more sympathetic to Tsipras’s arguments.
She added it would be “difficult” for the 40-year-old premier to continue in office if he was forced to rely on opposition MPs to get laws passed.
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said on Monday that elections would not be “useful at the moment,” and the government had “no intention” of calling early polls.
But while most Syriza MPs backed the government in the first vote last week, there has been a swell of anger against the deal amongst the party’s more radical rank-and-file members.
Gerovassili said Tuesday that negotiations with Greece’s creditors — the European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF)– would resume immediately after Wednesday’s vote.
Athens wants to see the deal hammered out by August 20, when it is due to pay 3.2 billion euros to the ECB.
The government was able to pay off billions in debt to the ECB and IMF on Monday with the 7.16 billion euros of emergency bridge funding from the EU.