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Greece Fails to Back Prime Minister's Candidate
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 08:28:11 EST
Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras waits during the first round of voting to elect a new Greek president at the Parliament on Dec. 17.
Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras waits during the first round of voting to elect a new Greek president at the Parliament on Dec. 17. Getty Images

ATHENS—Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras ’s candidate for the presidency failed to win enough support in a second round parliamentary vote Tuesday, despite managing to gather eight more votes than in the first round, increasing the likelihood of snap elections being held early next year.

Greece’s parliament couldn’t gather the two-thirds needed to elect former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas as the country’s next president, meaning that lawmakers now face a third and final vote on Monday.

In the 300-seat Parliament, 168 members of the chamber voted in favor of the candidate, short of the needed 200. Of the remainder, 131 lawmakers abstained and one was absent. The members who abstained marked their ballots “present,” as it isn’t technically possible to cast a “no” vote.

Those who abstained can still vote in favor of Mr. Dimas in the third round.

The government, a coalition of the conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok parties, holds just 155 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. It will have to find 12 more votes from about a dozen independent lawmakers, as well as renegade deputies in two smaller parties, to elect a president in the final round scheduled for Dec. 29, when the threshold falls to 180 votes.

Under Greece’s constitution, if Mr. Samaras fails to gain the necessary support for his candidate by then, parliament is dissolved and national elections are called.

“I hope that in the third round we will avoid a national danger, a national adventure,” Mr. Samaras told reporters straight after the vote.

The Greek parliament’s failure to elect a new head of state weighed on market sentiment, although the vote was in line with expectations and helped pare earlier losses.

In midday trading, the Athens Stock Exchange general index was 1.9% lower at 851 points, from 2.6% lower before the vote, underperforming other European bourses that were higher across the board.

The vote for Greece’s president—a largely ceremonial post as the prime minister wields the power—is aimed to show a broad consensus among the country’s parties.

But analysts say it still seems difficult for the government to find the 180 votes required, boosting the chances of snap polls being held in late January or early February, some 18 months ahead of schedule.

“The real question is whether Mr. Samaras has more room to take initiatives that could win more support for Mr. Dimas; given today’s results, it doesn’t look like this is the case,” said Harris Mylonas, assistant professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

In an effort to convince more lawmakers, the Greek premier made a compromise move Sunday, calling for consensus over the government’s presidential candidate and offering to hold general elections by the end of 2015.

The government’s uphill struggle became steeper late last week after a lawmaker from the right wing Independent Greeks party claimed that he had been offered a bribe of €2 million to €3 million ($2.4 million to $3.7 million) to vote for the government’s candidate. A Greek prosecutor has since dismissed these allegations, saying that they were unfounded and that there is no evidence to support them.

Mr. Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party is currently trailing Syriza in the polls though it is not certain whether the leftist party would gather enough support to win an outright majority in parliament.

At the same time, the gap between the two parties has been narrowing in recent weeks.

Two fresh polls published over the weekend in the Eleftheros Typos newspaper and on the regional Vergina TV-channel show that Syriza’s lead has shrunk to between 2.5 and 3.4 percentage points. That compares with a roughly four-percentage-point lead a month ago.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras reiterated Tuesday that he expects the country to go to the polls after Monday’s parliamentary vote.

“Neither the parliament, nor the people are willing to give a blank check to Mr. Samaras to continue [the bailout] policy, that slashes pensions, raises the cost of medicine and ravages society,” he said.

—Alkman Granitsas contributed to this article.

Write to Nektaria Stamouli at nektaria.stamouli@wsj.com and Stelios Bouras at stelios.bouras@wsj.com



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