ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn expelled a lawmaker on Tuesday, its second deputy to go in less than a week, exposing cracks in a party many of whose top officials are in jail pending trial.
The fate of the party, which is widely accused of being neo-Nazi, is being closely watched ahead of May local and European elections, in which it is expected to perform well and frustrate Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s efforts to rein it in.
Expelled lawmaker Stathis Boukouras is one of six senior party officials jailed pending trial on charges of belonging to a criminal organization.
The government has been cracking down on the party since September over links to the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist rapper by a party sympathizer.
All men deny the charges against them.
Boukouras’s expulsion comes a day after local media reported he planned to quit the party, and reduces the party’s seats in the assembly to 16.
“Only those who can fight to the end can remain part of Golden Dawn’s struggle for Greece and Greeks,” party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris told reporters outside parliament.
Former Golden Dawn lawmaker Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos, who quit over the weekend, was the first to leave the party since a the crackdown began.
Following a request in February by magistrates investigating the stabbing and other violent attacks, parliament is expected to decide in the coming weeks if it will lift the immunity from prosecution of more than half of Golden Dawn’s lawmakers, clearing the way to bring criminal charges against them.
The latest opinion polls found Golden Dawn, which entered parliament for the first time in 2012, would get about 4.5 percent of the vote in May’s European Parliament elections.
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Deepa Babington and Louise Ireland