All the pieces are now in place for a one-two process that will see the Prespes Agreement, which seeks to resolve the Greece-Macedonia/FYROM Name Dispute ratified in very short order, assuming the government survives the upcoming vote of confidence, as expected.
The process is being stage-managed by the now single-party SYRIZA minority government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, careful to limit every possible opportunity for the Greek public to inject its views into the process. There is still no clarity on when national elections might be held.
SYRIZA co-opts ANEL
As soon as leader of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party Defence Minister Panos Kammenos announced his party’s withdrawal from the coalition government with SYRIZA January 13, Greece and the world witnessed a rapid set of political decisions that laid out the ratification process for the Prespes Agreement. Keeping his hand close to his chest, Tsipras called for an immediate vote of confidence after meeting with Kammenos but has not revealed either the date for the Prespes ratification vote, which should be very soon, or the date for elections required this year before October 20, but most had expected in the spring.
Although the SYRIZA-ANEL rupture had been broadly anticipated since before the Prespes Agreement was signed in June, most observers were caught by surprise by two actions – the rapid collapse of ANEL party cohesion as key members defected, and Tsipras’ decision to quickly request a vote of confidence despite his party’s 145 seats in the 300-member Greek parliament. SYRIZA calculated it had the votes and alliances needed to move forward.
Both parties satisfied?
ANEL leader Kammenos walked away from the “divorce”, claiming to be true to his ideals, an action unexpected by most, while the bulk of his party’s deputies plan to vote with the government to see the Prespes deal passed. Rarely in recent years has there been such textbook co-optation tactics used by a European leftist party, something almost right out of post-war Eastern Europe under Soviet Army occupation.
Almost all political commentators in Greece underestimated the extent of the ANEL transmutation in the last weeks, having focused instead on the idea of Tsipras wooing independent deputies and a few other small parties to fill in for the withdrawn ANEL deputies’ votes.
Conspiracy theories now abound, since those same commentators now state it is “obvious” the Tsipras-Kammenos divorce was “pre-arranged” to ensure that Prespes is ratified to satisfy foreign powers.
In any event, analysts are currently tallying 151 Yes votes for the now-minority SYRIZA government in an expected midnight vote of confidence January 16. The swing vote is MP Spyros Danellis, who was ejected from the small To Potami (The river) party last night after he announced he would not be following the party line during the vote of confidence.
New Democracy party President Kyriakos Mitsotakis, widely expected to be elected Greece’s next prime minister, claimed on television January 14 that the SYRIZA-ANEL rupture witnessed the day before was a “staged divorce.”
The rest is history, and the timing of the ratification vote could be almost immediate if the compliant leadership in Greece’s parliament again does as Tsipras requests. Some MPs that may not actually support the government in the confidence vote may support Prespes ratification, but the numbers will still be close, meaning that in both Greece and Macedonia/FYROM sizable opposition to the deal remains. Already in Athens invitations are circulating to lectures designed to explain the legal procedures needed for abrogating ratified international agreements, meaning the Prespes Agreement.
Questions have been raised by legal experts as to the proper role of Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in terms of handling the political processes in the days that follow. Some have asked why he hasn’t challenged Tsipras to consider the use of an enhanced majority of 180 deputies to ratify a treaty of major national importance as ANEL leader Kammenos repeatedly requested. And why has the idea of a referendum been rejected?
A large demonstration, similar in scope to the one held last February, is scheduled for Syntagma Square on January 20, but by then the ratification vote may have been taken.
A number of threats against independent and ANEL MPs who indicated they support Prespes have been reported to the Greek press, with investigations quickly launched and an arrest of a 63-year-old already made. The political motivation is clear. The same police force cannot manage to stop years of vandalism as well as armed attacks against foreign embassies by various terrorist groups.