Prespa agreement and the balance of power in the Greek Parliament

Written by: Manos Moschopoulos. Manos works on migrant rights in Europe, issues of economic deprivation and working class inclusion. A native of Athens, Manos is now based in Berlin, but has lived in Belgrade, Budapest, London, and Skopje.

As you may have seen in the news, Syriza’s right-wing coalition partner is leaving the government. Tsipras has called for a vote of confidence in his government which he will likely win. The Prespa Agreement on Macedonia’s name is also expected to be ratified by Greece’s parliament.

Panos Kammenos announced today that the right-wing Independent Greeks will leave the government. Kammenos also resigned his position as Minister of National Defence. Kammenos is leaving the government due to his opposition to the Prespa Agreement on the Macedonian name issue, two days after the Macedonian Parliament voted to amend the constitution and rename the country to the Republic of North Macedonia. However, some of his party’s cabinet ministers have vowed to stay on in defiance of their party leader.

In response, PM Alexis Tsipras is seeking a vote of confidence in his government, likely to be held on Wednesday. In Greece’s 300-member Parliament, Syriza currently has 145 MPs, while another independent MP (Katerina Papakosta, elected with New Democracy) is a cabinet minister. Even though Kammenos said he would not vote for the government, Tsipras is expected to gain the backing of four MPs from the Independent Greeks. The one extra vote that Tsipras needs to gain a majority is expected to come from Spiros Danellis, an MP from the centrist To Potami who maintains that backing the Prespa Agreement requires the Tsipras government to stay in power.

The Prespa Agreement itself is expected to be ratified immediately after the vote of confidence. There, Tsipras relies on his 145 MPs, Papakosta, two MPs from the Independent Greeks and four MPs from To Potami. The leader of the Democratic Left, who sits in the same parliamentary grouping with the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), was also expected to vote in favour. Unlike the process in Skopje, the deal only needs a simple majority of Greece’s parliament to enter into force. Beyond the conservative New Democracy and the far-right Golden Dawn, PASOK and the Union of Centrists also oppose the Prespa Agreement.

Tsipras repeated yesterday that he will seek to exhaust his mandate and hold legislative elections in October. His choice to call a vote of confidence in his government may allow him to do so, as he would have a working majority to remain in power. With Greece formally out of the bailout process and without a right-wing coalition partner, Tsipras sees this as an opportunity to pursue a progressive governing agenda that will form the basis for Syriza’s manifesto in the upcoming elections. European Parliament, local and regional elections will be held in May.

The Prespes Agreement is proving to be a new divisive line in Greek politics, with three  minor parliamentary groups split over the issue. In recent days MPs have received abuse and death threats, especially after activists sent out mass texts with the cellphone numbers of Independent Greek MPs who intend to support the agreement and/or the government.

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