ATHENS — Weary Greeks looked ahead at a long day of political wrangling on Friday before a confidence vote that could determine whether Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou remains their leader through the current financial crisis.
The vote, which will take place in Parliament in the evening, is far from assured. a day after Papandreou backed away from a proposal to hold a referendum on a European bailout plan. His move removed a significant obstacle that had rattled global markets and imperiled plans to halt a spreading economic crisis, but it came only after much of his already-wobbling support had washed away.
Thursday was filled with political intrigue and drama, and by its end, Greek politicians for the first time had coalesced around the rescue deal after the opposition dropped its objections. But the plans still require Parliament’s approval, and politicians remained at odds over whether Papandreou would stay or go. The opposition has called for elections by the end of the year, which Papandreou opposes, suggesting that the deal could still fall apart.
Regardless of the political outcome, Greece appears far more likely to participate in the bailout than it did just days ago, when the prospect of a December referendum meant uncertainty lingering for weeks. Instead, European leaders can move on to other pressing issues, such as how to bolster Europe’s bailout fund to guard against shakiness in Italy and Spain.
But the political instability within Greece could still delay the precise contours of the plans. If Papandreou loses the vote Friday night — a distinct possibility, since Socialists controls only 152 of the 300 seats of Parliament, and one Socialist deputy has already vowed to vote against him — he would likely be forced to step down in favor of a caretaker government, with elections following shortly thereafter. If he wins, he would still preside over a government in which many of his top associates have lost patience with him. Some reports in Athens have suggested he had worked out a deal with his cabinet to step aside in favor of technocratic caretakers even if he prevails in the confidence vote.
Papandreou’s proposal to hold a national referendum on the bailout plan, a vote that would also determine Greece’s future in the euro zone, had caused fissures within his Socialist party and sent shock waves through Europe. In Frankfurt, Germany, the European Central Bank said Thursday it would lower interest rates by a quarter percentage point, indicating deep concerns about Europe’s outlook. In Cannes, France, where leaders at the Group of 20 summit had warned they would cut off all support to Greece until the referendum was resolved, the drama dominated discussions.
In a speech to Socialist party officials Thursday evening, Papandreou said shooting down the bailout plan “means leaving the euro.”
“If the opposition is willing to negotiate, then we are ready to ratify this deal and implement it,” he said, adding that he had invited the main opposition party to be “co-negotiators” with his country’s creditors.