World / Europe

Greek FinMin optimistic on crucial austerity vote

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-11-02 10:24

ATHENS - Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras expressed optimism on Thursday over the outcome of a crucial parliamentary vote next week to pass an austerity package needed to unlock further international rescue loans to Athens.

"I believe the measures will be approved," he told media after briefing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on the "positive climate" for Greece during Wednesday's Euro Group meeting.

Stournaras said that the omnibus bill containing 13.5 billion euros ($17.5 billion) of spending cuts and reforms will be tabled on Nov 5 and ratified on Nov 7. The Euro Group meeting on Nov 12 will decide on the disbursement of the next tranche of 31.5 billion euros of bailout aid to Greece.

Greece has been kept afloat by European Union and International Monetary Fund funding since 2010 in exchange of reigning in government spending and introducing structural reforms.

In addition, the political climate in Athens has deteriorated of late, local analysts commented. Stournaras' statement came as the four-month coalition government was rocked by growing dissent among partners after a "bruising" parliamentary vote on the privatization draft law on Wednesday.

The bill passed with a slim majority, as several lawmakers, in particular within the socialist PASOK party which participates in government, defying party lines and voting against it.

On Thursday, MP Michalis Kassis quit PASOK and turned independent in protest of the austerity package and the party's policies, while former Minister Mariliza Xenoyannakopoulou followed, arguing that the current recipe "fuels recession and leads more Greeks to extreme poverty".

PASOK chief Evangelos Venizelos defended his choice to fully support the government's course to save the country and called on lawmakers to vote in favor of the austerity package next week.

According to local media reports, up to five PASOK deputies have warned that they will vote down the measures, while the Democratic Left, the smaller party in the coalition holding 16 seats in the assembly, remains adamant on its objections to labor market reforms, increasing the possibilities of a negative result.

The three-party coalition government holds 175 seats in the 300-member parliament. The conservative New Democracy party of Samaras, who also faces the prospect of defections, according to media reports, holds 127 seats.

Amid speculation whether the measures will pass and the coalition will survive, trade unions step up protests and strikes, adding pressure on the government.

Thousands of police, fire brigade, coast guard officers and employees at state hospitals took to the streets of Athens on Thursday, protesting the new round of wage cuts and tax hikes outside the parliament building, as lawyers launched a 48-hour strike.

Public transport services are expected to be disrupted on Friday due to a 24-hour strike, as elementary school teachers organize a rally. Protests will culminate in a new 48-hour general strike called by the umbrella unions of private and public sector workers GSEE and ADEDY next Tuesday and Wednesday.

It would be the fifth general strike this year and it is intended to coincide with the key vote in parliament.

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