January 15, 2019 / 7:36 AM / 8 months ago

Greek PM set to scrape through confidence motion over Macedonia deal

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made an impassioned appeal to parliament for support on Tuesday, the eve of a confidence vote he is expected to survive by a whisker with the backing of a handful of opposition lawmakers.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session on confidence vote in Athens, Greece, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Tsipras called the vote following the resignation of Defence Minister Panos Kammenos and his right-wing Independent Greeks’ party over an accord to end a long dispute between Greece and Macedonia by changing Macedonia’s name.

As parliament opened two days of debate, Tsipras said it was a “patriotic duty” to proceed with the agreement, knowing it would have a political cost.

He called on lawmakers to support him, saying his government had pulled Greece from international bailouts and a debt crisis and has more work to do in the nine months that remain before its term ends in October.

“There are times that one is judged not for his words but for his acts. There are times of critical decisions and of responsibilities,” Tsipras said.

“Addressing you all, I urge you to speak clearly and with honesty, listen to your conscience and respect the people’s interest. I call on you to give a clear response: Do you trust this government to continue?,” he added.

The vote is expected on Wednesday night.

The prime minister said last week he could call a snap election if he failed to win a majority of 151 votes.

His leftist Syriza party has 145 seats in the 300-seat chamber and the support of one independent lawmaker. Despite the resignation of Kammenos, four lawmakers from the right-wing Independent Greeks have said they will still back Tsipras.

He received another endorsement on Tuesday from a member of parliament from the centrist To Potami party, reaching the 151 MP mark.

The fate of the Macedonia name deal hinges on the outcome of the confidence vote, as the opposition has vowed to reject it.

The deal, which was reached in June in the Prespes region, is intended to resolve a dispute that has kept Greece’s northern neighbor excluded from the EU and NATO over its name.

“Giving a vote of confidence tomorrow will be like saying “yes” to the Prespes agreement tomorrow, which is a great national concession,” said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party.

“At the same time it (would) support a ragbag government with no popular mandate and with a harmful agenda.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

Greece argues that the name Macedonia represents a territorial claim over a Greek province by the same name, and has blocked the former Yugoslav republic from joining Western institutions. Under the deal, Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia, and Greece will accept it.

Macedonia’s parliament last week passed an amendment to the constitution to rename the country, leaving it up to Greece to ratify the deal.

Greek opponents of the agreement say Macedonia’s new name still represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity. Groups opposing the deal will rally in central Athens on Sunday.

Editing by Peter Graff and Ed Osmond

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