Sunday 23 July 2017

Greek officials play down snap election option in debt stand off

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is pictured before his speech at a parliamentary session to brief lawmakers over the ongoing talks with the country's lenders, in Athens, Greece June 5, 2015. Tsipras on Friday branded a cash for reforms proposal by his country's creditors an
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is pictured before his speech at a parliamentary session to brief lawmakers over the ongoing talks with the country's lenders, in Athens, Greece June 5, 2015. Tsipras on Friday branded a cash for reforms proposal by his country's creditors an "absurd" one that he cannot accept and said he hoped it would be taken back. In an uncompromising speech to parliament, Tsipras said a proposal by Athens made earlier this week was the only realistic basis for a deal with creditors. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis attends a parliamentary session where Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will brief lawmakers over the ongoing talks with the country's lenders, in Athens, Greece June 5, 2015. Greece's government rejects an "absurd" and "unrealistic" proposal from creditors and hopes it will be withdrawn, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday as he called on lenders to accept a rival proposal from Athens instead. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Lefteris Papadimas

Greek government officials have played down the possibility of early elections to break an impasse with the country's creditors, a day after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras dismissed the lenders' latest cash-for-reforms offer.

Some hard-liners in the ruling Syriza party, including a deputy minister, had suggested during the week that new elections would be needed to secure public legitimacy for difficult decisions needed to obtain aid.

But Tsipras made no mention of this option in a defiant speech to parliament on Friday. He focused instead on attacking the terms of the aid plan offered by euro zone and International Monetary Fund creditors.

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On Saturday, two ministers said they saw no case for elections and an opinion poll showed Greeks have little appetite for a return to the polls just five months after Tsipras won power on a radical leftist agenda to end austerity.

Tsipras is under huge pressure to seal a deal with lenders before his cash-strapped government runs out of money, defaults on its debt and is possibly forced to leave the euro zone. But he must also placate hard-liners in his party who are outraged by the austerity measures being demanded in return for aid.

"There is no reason for elections", Health Minister Papagiotis Kouroublis said in television interview on Saturday.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 3, 2015. Greece's international creditors signalled on Wednesday they were ready to compromise to avert a default even as Athens warned it might skip an IMF loan repayment due this week. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) is welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 3, 2015. Greece's international creditors signalled on Wednesday they were ready to compromise to avert a default even as Athens warned it might skip an IMF loan repayment due this week. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

"I strongly believe there will be a deal", he added. That echoed comments the night before by Tsipras, who balanced indignation at the creditors' terms with optimism that a deal was "closer than ever before" - but on Greece's terms.

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Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who is from Syriza's hard left but is close to Tsipras, also appeared to dismiss talk of elections, telling weekly newspaper "Agora" the government already has a full mandate to implement its programme.

The lenders' latest proposal crosses many of Tsipras's 'red lines,' including hiking taxes, privatising strategic assets and cutting benefits for poor pensioners.

Tsipras instead is calling on lenders to accept a Greek plan that would reverse tough labour and pension reforms. This, he says, is the only "realistic" proposal on the table.

An opinion poll published on Saturday showed only 35pc of Greeks want the government to refuse to compromise with lenders, while 47 percent want it to reach a deal even if it means making concessions.

Read More: Greece slams 'irrational' proposals

The poll by Metron Analysis for weekly newspaper Parapolitica showed 73 percent of Greeks saw no need for new elections to approve an eventual accord with creditors, compared with 22pc who said a popular vote was necessary.

The survey showed 79pc want to remain in the euro zone, confirming the message of previous poll findings.

Greece's bailout expires at the end of June and default would beckon then, but for now Tsipras and his ministers continue to talk tough, saying it is the lenders who are unwilling to compromise.

"No-one among the creditors can take the responsibility for a clash with unpredictable consequences", Health Minister Kouroublis said. "It is not only a Greek problem but a European problem".

Reuters

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