Greece's PM faces confidence vote after coalition ally quits

Cheryl Sanders
January 14, 2019

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the Independent Greeks, bolted the government on Sunday after breaking with Tsipras over a name dispute with neighboring Macedonia. Greece will hold parliamentary elections in October.

His left-wing Syriza party has 145 deputies in the legislature, and the prime minister may need votes from opposition lawmakers to pass the deal.

Macedonia's parliament ratified the name change deal on Friday, but it will not go into effect until Athens does the same. Kammenos has vowed that he would also pull six other ministers from his party out of the government.

Kammenos first threatened to pull out of the government after Tsipras signed the name change deal with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in June a year ago.

Eighty-one of the Macedonian parliament's 120 members backed the name change, securing the required two-thirds majority to push it through.

The future of the ruling coalition government remains unclear.

ANEL leader Kammenos has long promised to reject the Prespes Agreement but several of his MPs have said publicly they will support it, generating new internal break-up scenarios each day.

"The adoption of constitutional changes in parliament means not only the ratification of the agreement with Greece and a new name of the country, now called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia".

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday said he would call a confidence vote in his government after his coalition ally quit, leaving him bereft of a parliamentary majority and raising the possibility of snap elections. Kammenos said he would not support Tsipras in the vote.

"If anything, the exit of Kammenos helps clear some of the uncertainty of the last few days which were marred by his backpedaling", said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director at Eurasia Group in London.

The first casualty in Athens is Kammenos, who, after meeting with Tsipras January 13, said "The Macedonia name issue... doesn't allow me not to sacrifice the minister's chair".

"Our parliament found the strength but it wasn't easy".

Athens argues that use of the term "Macedonia" implies territorial claims on Greece's northern province of the same name, and on its ancient Greek heritage. "But I am convinced that the Greek parliament will also find the strength to make the decision", Zaev told a press conference in Skopje. A longstanding dispute between the two countries led to the move, because a region of Greece bordering the Macedonian republic is also called Macedonia. The controversial agreement would also allow Macedonia to join North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union. For the Greeks, Macedonia is significant as the cradle of Alexander the Great's empire.

The main opposition, the conservative New Democracy party, which is leading pre-election polls, has said it will block the deal.

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