ATHENS Nov 16 Greece's new government
should comfortably survive a vote of confidence on Wednesday but
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos faces a daunting task repairing
the shattered public finances, and cracks are already appearing
in his crisis coalition.
Polls show Papademos, a former vice president of the
European Central Bank, has the backing of three in four Greeks
but the need to implement painful tax rises and spending cuts to
secure fresh loans and stave off bankruptcy will sorely test
At stake are an 8 billion euro loan tranche Greece needs to
meet debt repayments due next month and a new bailout worth 130
billion euros. Greece needs some 80 billion euros of that second
rescue package in early 2012.
Papademos's national unity government brings together bitter
rivals, the conservative New Democracy of Antonis Samaras, the
Socialists of fallen prime minister George Papandreou and the
far-right LAOS party.
"The government is asking for a vote of confidence. This
should not be taken for granted because of its big majority. It
is a symbolic, political action," Finance Minister Evangelos
Venizelos said in Tuesday's confidence debate.
"We will help ourselves and the euro zone if we do what we
have to do now, quickly, responsibly, so that Greece can always
be a member of the euro zone and for the euro zone to exist, to
permanently overcome the risk of a default," he said.
The vote is scheduled for 1300 GMT but may be delayed.
On the eve of the confidence motion, New Democracy lawmakers
defied the European Commission's request for a written pledge
from the three parties on meeting the terms of Greece's bailout,
saying they would not bow to Brussels.
New Democracy MP Nikos Dendias said orders "from Brussels
cannot be a legitimate policy".
Such a stance will test anew the patience and confidence of
Greece's European partners, who have already begun to speculate
publicly on whether the country of 11 million people has a
future within the euro zone.
Further highlighting the lack of unity in a government that
must prepare for an election in the first quarter of 2012, 101
Socialist deputies signed a petition on Tuesday opposing their
party's cooperation with New Democracy and LAOS.
Athens will begin thrashing out a deal with private
bondholders on Thursday to slash its public debt, sources said,
tackling a key pillar of the 130 billion euro bailout plan
agreed with euro zone leaders last month.
The plan envisages slashing Greece's 330 billion euro debt
load by a third and imposing a 50 percent loss on private
bondholders, but it has been poorly received among Greeks who
fear further waves of painful austerity.
Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to join an
annual rally on Thursday to mark the Nov. 17 student uprising in
1973 that helped topple the 1967-74 military junta.
The ranks of students and workers are likely to be swelled
by middle-class Greeks who have diligently paid their taxes and
blame the nearly two-year-old economic crisis on a corrupt and
quarrelsome political elite and rich tax evaders.
"We expect massive participation as rage and anger have been
dwelling in people for so long ... It is very possible that some
groups will misbehave," said Mary Bossis, international security
professor at the University of Piraeus.