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Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s bid to avert the euro region’s first sovereign default will culminate today with a budget vote in a Parliament besieged by protesters amid a wave of national strikes.
Papandreou may scrape through approval by quelling dissent from the 155 votes he commands in the 300-seat legislature and recruiting opposition allies to deliver a 78 billion-euro ($112 billion) austerity package that will determine if his indebted nation can receive further rescue funds. Rallying lawmakers might be easier than enacting the plan as Greek discontent deepens on higher taxes and so-called “crisis wage levies.”
“The odds favor the government and a parliamentary approval,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London. “But this will be a Pyrrhic victory and an early election later this year or early 2012 is almost certain. It is difficult to see how the current government can implement the required measures to meet the bailout conditionalities.”
Greece’s legislature remains the focus of protests that yesterday clogged Athens’ city center with more than 20,000 people in the first half of a 48-hour general strike. Thirty- seven police were injured and clouds of tear gas filled the air as hooded youths wielding clubs smashed windows at a McDonald’s Corp. (MCD) restaurant and burned vehicles.
Hundreds of people reassembled today in front of Parliament, adding to a group that has camped outside the building and tried to block access to prevent the vote from taking place. Riot officers used more tear gas in a standoff on one of the main avenues leading to the city center. Nine people were injured in today’s violence, the health ministry said in a text message.
The final debate has begun as planned and the vote is scheduled for 2 p.m. Papandreou has called on lawmakers to “do their patriotic duty” and pass the austerity bill. That, and a successful vote tomorrow to authorize implementation of the plan, would enable Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos to appear at a meeting of finance ministers this weekend.
The premier has struggled to muster opposition backing for the package while keeping his own in party in line. He appointed a new finance minister to stem defections, survived a confidence vote and outlined 5.6 billion euros of additional budget measures, including a 5 percent levy on lawmakers’ wages. On June 24, he won a pledge for a second bailout from European Union leaders on condition he can deliver domestic support.
In a move that may aid Papandreou, the Democratic Alliance, a group led by former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, said yesterday that its five members in Parliament should vote “according to their conscience” taking into account “the immediate danger of bankruptcy facing the country.” Bakoyannis said today that she will abstain in the vote.
Thomas Robopoulos, one of two lawmakers in Papandreou’s party who had threatened to oppose the government bill, today withdrew his objections and said he will vote in favor.
Failure to pass the two bills may lead to the euro area’s first sovereign default as Greece needs to cover 6.6 billion euros ($9.4 billion) of maturing bonds in August. Greek government officials have said they may also not have cash to pay wages and pensions by mid-July.
As Papandreou races to clinch agreement, German finance ministry officials will meet with banks and insurers in Berlin today. They will use a French proposal as a blueprint for discussion to seek an agreement on their role in a Greek rescue, two people with knowledge of the matter said.