ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his right-wing coalition ally on Friday postponed a looming showdown over a deal on neighboring Macedonia’s name, dragging out uncertainty on an issue which could trigger snap elections.
Tsipras has said that he will request a confidence vote if he loses the parliamentary support of the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) party. ANEL has threatened to reject the Macedonia accord if it comes to parliament for approval, though it is unclear if they will pull out of government altogether.
Panos Kammenos, defense minister and head of ANEL, has described the Macedonia pact as a “bad deal”.
He said that a meeting with Tsipras on Friday was subsequently postponed because ratification of the accord is still pending approval by parliament in Skopje.
“I don’t think Mr Kammenos will pull his confidence in the government... That is what I will ask of him when I meet him on Friday,” Tsipras told Open TV in an interview on Wednesday.
The left-right governing coalition has a thin majority, controlling just 153 seats in the 300 member parliament. Seven of those seats belong to ANEL.
Despite strong domestic opposition, Greece last year agreed to the former Yugoslav republic adopting the name North Macedonia, paving the way for Skopje’s possible admission to the European Union and NATO. The accord, signed in June of last year, is now pending approval in the Macedonian parliament.
Many Greeks, however, are irked that their Balkan neighbor is assuming a name linked to Greek heritage and identical to a northern region of Greece.
The Macedonia issue has strained relations between Tsipras and Kammenos for months. The issue led to the resignation in October of foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, who was in favor of the deal, after a shouting match between the two in cabinet.
Kammenos has kept his intentions to himself.
“I’m not an outgoing minister, nor have I resigned,” he told a parliamentary committee on Friday.
Should Tsipras lose a confidence vote the country will head to snap elections. The leftist leader is trailing in opinion polls behind opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative.
Mitsotakis has also said he would block the deal.
If Kammenos withdraws his support, Tsipras said he would request a confidence vote before the deal comes to parliament. He also said that should he fail to secure an absolute majority of 151 lawmakers, he would complete some pending reforms before calling an early election.
The coalition’s full term expires in October.
Editing by Michele Kambas and Angus MacSwan