The political uncertainty engulfing Greece intensified on Friday as a junior partner in the fragile coalition government announced it was defecting after a heated dispute over the public broadcaster.
The government’s parliamentary majority dwindled to three as the small Democratic Left party, DIMAR, withdrew from the tripartite alliance.
“The country doesn’t need elections,” said Fotis Kouvellis, the party’s leader. “The Democratic Left insists on reform policy and will continue to seek and demand solutions within the European reality ... but it is opposed to autocratic behavior and policies that promote party choices.”
The alliance had been uneasy from the time the government assumed power in June last year.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, whose conservative New Democracy party narrowly won the last election, will now have to cohabit with his once bitter rival Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the social-democratic PASOK party.
The PASOK hegemon, a fiery professor of law widely regarded as Greece’s most talented politician, is expected to take over as foreign minister and assume the title of deputy prime minister.
He said his party would remain in the coalition “because we know Greeks do not want fresh elections.”
DIMAR, which controls 15 seats in the 300-member parliament, may continue to offer passive support for the government — backing it on critical reforms demanded by the country’s creditors.
However, analysts said the rupture in the coalition did not bode well at a time of mounting pressure from the EU and IMF to enforce measures that are deeply unpopular.
“DIMAR’s withdrawal has stripped the coalition of any leftwing and social alibi,” said Giorgos Kyrtsos, a leading right-wing commentator. “What you have, instead, is a government run by the two established political forces who are responsible for Greece going bankrupt in the first place.”
With the IMF reportedly threatening to withhold further aid payments amid speculation that eurozone central government are poised to stop rolling over Greek debt, the pressure on Athens to speed up its reform program is likely to grow.
“Opposition to policies both politically and socially will inevitably mount,” Kyrtsos said. “Come October or November when new austerity measures will need to be taken to meet the financing needs of the state budget and pension system, there will be uproar. Frankly I don’t give the government past Christmas.”
Samaras attempted to put on a brave face on Thursday night, telling Greeks that with or without DIMAR his government would serve out its four-year mandate.
“Today we conclude one year as a government. Three years remain. We will serve them out,” he said. “Our aim is to see through our efforts to save the country.”
However, the conservative leader, a patrician reformist, has also come under fierce attack from Venizelos for his behavior in office. Samaras’s abrupt decision to shut down the state-run broadcaster ERT and fire all 2,700 of its employees triggered accusations of arrogance and high-handedness, with both PASOK and DIMAR insisting the prime minister had taken the step unilaterally.
In closing the channel 10 days ago Samaras had hoped to show foreign lenders who wanted 2,000 civil servants to be sacked by the end of this month that he was cable of such a move. Public sector firings have been a red line across which no government has wished to pass since the outbreak of the debt crisis in late 2009.
Miscalculating the public backlash, he instead initiated the gravest crisis to hit his government to date. Even stalwart opponents of ERT, an organization widely criticized for its perceived cronyism and profligacy, were outraged by the move.
On Thursday as the coalition leaders held their third emergency meeting over the dispute, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said he hoped Greece would stay out of the headlines for a while.