ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has yet to make up his mind on calling early elections, a government minister said on Wednesday, following a rift in the ruling party over the country’s new bailout deal.
The comment came as former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads hard left rebels in Tsipras’ Syriza party, repeated his opposition to the bailout and signaled he might refuse to support Tsipras in any confidence vote.
Ministers have spoken openly about the possibility of a parliamentary confidence vote leading to elections since Tsipras had to rely on opposition lawmakers to win approval on Friday for the 86 billion euro bailout deal.
But Deputy Culture Minister Nikos Xydakis played down speculation that Tsipras could move soon after Greece makes a 3.2 billion euro debt repayment to the European Central Bank on Thursday, using funds to be released under the bailout program.
Xydakis pinned the timing on the first review of progress under the new bailout, which Greece’s creditors will conduct in October. “There are two views in order to have a strengthened government - elections either before or after the first bailout review. It is a decision the prime minister will make,” he told the state TV channel ERT.
Greece has already been bailed out twice since 2010 by the euro zone and International Monetary Fund. Tsipras secured the third program by promising to impose reform and austerity policies that are so onerous that a sizeable number of lawmakers from his radical left Syriza party rejected the deal in parliament.
Lafazanis, whom Tsipras sacked for a previous rebellion, has already taken a step toward breaking away from the party by calling for a new anti-bailout movement.
“We ... will not under any guise or pretext give the ‘green light’ to anyone to implement this third bailout,” he told the real.gr news website on Wednesday, saying the deal would perpetuate the destructive policies of “relentless austerity and degrading servitude”
On Friday, support for the government from within its own coalition parties fell below 120 votes, the minimum needed to survive a confidence vote if some others abstain. The main conservative opposition New Democracy party and the small socialist party PASOK have both ruled out supporting Tsipras after voting for the bailout to save the country from ruin.
However, neither has said whether it would vote against Tsipras or merely abstain.
The speculation has led to opposition accusations that Tsipras, who remains popular despite his U-turn on resisting austerity, wants elections simply to deal with his own internal rebellion.
Xydakis said this should not be so. “What is most important at this phase is that the government serve the interests of the Greek people and not those of the party,” he said. “Tsipras is the prime minister of 11 million Greeks, not of 30,000 members of the Syriza party.”
The bailout program cleared one of its final hurdles on Wednesday when parliament in Germany - the biggest contributor to the bailouts - approved it overwhelmingly.
Greece came close to financial collapse before Tsipras negotiated the deal, forcing him to close the banks for three weeks and impose capital controls on money leaving the banking system which have since been eased slightly, but not removed.
Additional reporting by Karlina Tagaris. Writing by David Stamp Editing by Jeremy Gaunt