Fric­tion over prop­erty tax ex­poses cracks in coali­tion’s strat­egy

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Although the gov­ern­ment passed its lat­est amend­ments to the trou­bled sin­gle prop­erty tax (ENFIA) on Thurs­day, the at­mos­phere sur­round­ing the bal­lot un­der­lined that all is not well within the coali­tion, ac­cord­ing to the news and pol­icy site MacroPo­lis.gr.

Par­lia­ment is still in its sum­mer ses­sions, so the 51 out of 100 votes the ENFIA changes re­ceived was just enough for the gov­ern­ment. But the re­sult only came about after the coali­tion switched eight of its MPs. Dur­ing the sum­mer ses­sions, par­ties are al­lowed to re­place their law­mak­ers with those from the re­main­ing pool of 200 MPs.

The gov­ern­ment said that only one of the eight MPs (PA­SOK’s Nikos Si­founakis) was sub­sti­tuted be­cause he op­posed the amend­ments. How­ever, law­mak­ers’ com­ments and me­dia re­ports in­di­cated there was much wider dis­con­tent among coali­tion MPs, who felt the gov­ern­ment had not gone far enough to cor­rect ENFIA’s ini­tial er­rors and ease the bur­den on a range of home­own­ers, in­clud­ing those with empty houses.

For in­stance one of the other MPs that was re­placed, New Democ­racy’s Lefteris Av­ge­nakis, had spo­ken out against ENFIA be­fore the vote. The gov­ern­ment in­sisted that he and another six deputies were re­placed be­cause they were un­able to at­tend the vote for a range of rea­sons. Re­gard­less of whether the coali­tion’s as­ser­tions are true or just a smoke­screen, the im­age por­trayed is of a gov­ern­ment strug­gling to keep its MPs on mes­sage.

There have been re­ports of ar­gu­ments within the New Democ­racy par­lia­men­tary group. One con­ser­va­tive MP was forced to apol­o­gise after swear­ing at a Fi­nance Min­istry of­fi­cial dur­ing a row over ENFIA. ND’s par­lia­men­tary spokesman, Ado­nis Ge­or­giadis, went as far as to sug­gest that Fi­nance Min­is­ter Gikas Har­dou­velis should re­sign if he is un­able to stand by the tax and en­sure it is im­ple­mented. It is clear that Har­dou­velis’s brief hon­ey­moon since be­ing ap­pointed to the cab­i­net in June is over but last week’s de­vel­op­ments have wider sig­nif­i­cance, es­pe­cially when one con­sid­ers that the gov­ern­ment wants to cre­ate some co­he­sion ahead of the pres­i­den­tial vote in March. Most of what the gov­ern­ment will be do­ing over the next few months will be aimed at se­cur­ing the 180 votes it needs to elect a suc­ces­sor to Pres­i­dent Karo­los Papou­lias and avoid early elec­tions.

As things stand, the coali­tion is in a tight spot. Apart from the dis­com­fort in its own ranks, which is un­likely to lead to an out­right re­bel­lion, the num­bers do not yet add up in terms of op­po­si­tion MPs. The gov­ern­ment has 154 law­mak­ers so it needs to get at least another 26 on board. The two most likely sources for th­ese votes are Demo­cratic Left (DI­MAR) and the large group of in­de­pen­dent MPs. DI­MAR has ten MPs, while the in­de­pen­dents num­ber 24 – six who de­fected from In­de­pen­dent Greeks, six from DI­MAR, five from PA­SOK, four from New Democ­racy, two from Golden Dawn and one from SYRIZA.

Even if the gov­ern­ment can se­cure the ten DI­MAR votes, gar­ner­ing another 16 from such a var­ied group of in­de­pen­dents is not a straight­for­ward task, es­pe­cially as six of the 24 have said they in­tend to vote against any gov­ern­ment can­di­date.

The other op­tion open to the gov­ern­ment is to pick a can­di­date that would ap­peal to the In­de­pen­dent Greeks, who have 13 seats in Par­lia­ment. The think­ing is that a cen­tre-right or right-wing can­di­date might at­tract the support of the na­tion­al­ist party and some in­de­pen­dents. Again, though, the num­bers are very tight. More­over, this plan seems like a non-starter be­cause In­de­pen­dent Greeks leader Panos Kam­menos in­di­cated this week that his party would not back any can­di­date be­cause he be­lieves Greece needs to hold na­tional elec­tions.

The third op­tion for the gov­ern­ment is to nom­i­nate a non-po­lit­i­cal can­di­date who would be able to com­mand the re­spect of a wide range of MPs. Re­ports have men­tioned aca­demic He­lene Ahrweiler (also known as Eleni Glykatzi- Ahrweiler) and film di­rec­tor Costa Gavras as pos­si­ble can­di­dates.

A fourth op­tion has been put for­ward by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Costas Kara­man­lis. Sources close to the ex-New Democ­racy leader have sug­gested that he has ad­vised cur­rent premier An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras to bring the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion for­ward - pos­si­bly as early as Novem­ber - to avoid a pro­longed pe­riod of un­cer­tainty. Con­sen­sus on a can­di­date could per­haps be achieved by the par­ties agree­ing on a date for early elec­tions at a later stage.

Kara­man­lis faced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion to Sa­ma­ras in 2009, when PA­SOK made it clear it would op­pose any pres­i­den­tial can­di­date put for­ward in 2010. Then, the New Democ­racy gov­ern­ment only had 151 MPs and PA­SOK’s stance was a cat­a­lyst in Kara­man­lis opt­ing for na­tional elec­tions in Oc­to­ber 2009, which led to a land­slide de­feat for his party.

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