Greek lawmakers will face a second round of voting after the only candidate Stavros Dimas failed to gain enough votes in the presidential ballot. The stalemate could spell ruin for the nation's economic recovery.
Greek parliamentarians entered a second round of voting on Wednesday after the first ended in defeat for the only candidate, former EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' ruling coalition, which only has 155 seats, failed to muster the required 200 votes from the 300 members of parliament.
He only got 160 votes, with many deputies abstaining or remaining purposely absent for the ballot.
Should a third and final round be necessary on December 29, Dimas will only need 180.
The high-stakes ballot could lead to snap elections. Although it is largely a ceremonial position, if Dimas doesn't win the presidential vote, this would pave the way for early legislative elections. This could be a golden opportunity for leftist party Syriza, who wants to change the economic course of Greece, and is currently leading in the opinion polls.
"Very soon our people will take center stage in developments," said Syriza leader Alexis Tspiras on Wednesday, adding that the vote was a clear sign the "fear campaign" launched by government had collapsed.
Worry over the future of reforms put in place to tackle the country's economic crisis and to receive a 240 billion euro (300 billion dollar) bailout sent shockwaves through the markets, with Athens stocks losing more than one fifth of the value over four days and reducing the value of the euro.
EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker even took the unusual step of telling Greeks not to vote the "wrong" way.
The election for president has been moved up from February, a huge gamble for prime minister Antonis Samaras, who barely holds on to a majority in parliament. The ballot was moved to Wednesday to reduce uncertainly when fragile negotiations with the nation's creditors, the European Union and the International Money Fund, will be taking place.
A Greek tragedy
The government was hoping to win over at least six opposition members on Wednesday night, as well as several independents, leading to Dimas' confirmation. If they fail to vote him in, Samaras warned, it will be "fatal to the European development of the country."
Dimas is the only candidate, but deputies can avoid voting for him by simply voicing their presence at the meeting and refusing to support him.
Should he fail to get those votes he needs by December 29, the government will be forced to call a general election. If anti-austerity Syriza takes that election, it could be a "Greek tragedy," according to financial analysts. Syriza wants to end four years of painful austerity measures and renegotiate the cash-strapped country's bailout conditions.
"If Greece overcomes the current political uncertainty and stays on the reform path, its recovery could gather further momentum soon. But if Greece reverses the reform progress, it may be heading straight into the economic abyss," one analyst told news agency AFP.
es/bw (AFP, dpa)