Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will have to rebuild his government after more than a quarter of his own lawmakers rebelled against a bailout that he accepted to keep the country in the euro.
After more than four hours of emotional debate, 38 of Syriza’s 149 lawmakers refused to back the bill, ripping the heart out of a government that came to power on an anti-austerity platform in January. That makes Tsipras dependent on opposition votes to continue in government.
“The significant number of ‘no’ votes from Syriza, including by some of the ministers, puts Mr. Tsipras at a very difficult position,” said Nicholas Economides, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Either he has to continue as a minority government at the mercy of the votes of the pro-Europe opposition parties, or create a new coalition that includes the opposition parties, or call for elections.”
As tear gas swirled in the streets outside parliament, the debate highlighted how Greek politics have been upended by a crisis that’s brought the country to the brink of collapse. Tsipras, whose election victory made him a symbol of Europe’s anti-austerity movement, was forced to ask parliament to back measures he’s opposed for most of his career.
The alternative, he argued, was to see Greece’s creditors withdraw aid and watch the country fall out of the euro.
“This agreement is the product of a blackmail, of a coup d’etat,” Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said in the debate. Kammenos, who heads the Independent Greeks party and is a coalition partner of Tsipras, accused unidentified “forces of the new order” of wanting to make Greece an example of “Germany’s hegemony” in Europe.
Still, Kammenos said he would support the bill because he wanted to bring some stability to the government.
In all, 64 of the parliament’s 300 lawmakers voted against the bill. Half of the “no” votes came from Syriza, with six other party lawmakers abstaining and one not showing up. The far-right Golden Dawn party and the Communists also opposed the measures.
Greek opposition leaders said Tsipras could rely on their votes for the second round of measures that creditors want approved by next week to begin bailout negotiations. But their support thereafter can’t be taken for granted, New Democracy lawmaker Kyriakos Mitsotakis said during the debate.
This means that Tsipras would need either to form a new coalition government in the fall or hold snap elections.
“I can’t see how we can avoid elections in 2015, they are necessary,” Minister of Labor Panos Skourletis said earlier this week. “We have a government which has probably lost its parliamentary majority, which believes, says and supports the opposite things from what those that it is forced to implement, under the threat of a gun.”
Another option could be to do U-turn on creditors before a new bailout is signed. Or he could decide to try to make a minority government work on an indefinite basis, an arrangement that’s never happened since democracy was restored in 1974.
“Greece is heading to a national unity government,” said Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst at Eurasia Group, in a note to clients before the vote. “This may prove to be the only way possible way forward, if Greece is indeed to secure a third bailout.”