November 19, 2015 / 11:01 AM / in 2 years

Greek ruling party lawmaker resigns hours before bailout bill vote

ATHENS (Reuters) - A popular Greek leftist lawmaker resigned from parliament on Thursday, hours before a vote on austerity measures required by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for bailout funds.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (C) is escorted by Minister of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs Aristides Baltas (L) and government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis during his visit at the ministry in Athens June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Gabriel Sakellaridis, an economist who was government spokesman for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ coalition during talks that led to the third bailout in July, said he was resigning because he could no longer support the bailout.

“The reason for this move is that I cannot contribute to the implementation of government policies. The decision to step down and to withdraw from the main political scene is a one-way road,” the 35-year-old politician said in a statement.

His resignation will not reduce the government’s 155-seat parliamentary majority since he is expected to be replaced by State Reform Minister Christoforos Vernardakis, who is not a member of parliament.

But it is symbolic of the disillusion in Syriza party which fought austerity when it was in opposition and was forced to sign up to a new bailout deal when it came to power to keep the debt-laden country in the euro zone.

Most dissenters left the party before a snap election in September, which Syriza won, this time on a mandate to implement the bailout deal but also protect the poor.

Athens and its foreign creditors this week concluded a first round of talks on issues such as home foreclosures and bad loans. Parliament is expected to ratify the reforms into law late on Thursday or in the early hours of Friday before Greece qualifies for more bailout funds.

A party member since his student years, Sakellaridis is also a member of Syriza’s moderate “53+” faction, which has long supported Tsipras but has also warned him against undermining the party’s leftist values in favor of holding on to power.

So far, there is no evidence of further dissent in Syriza’s parliamentary group. Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, also a member of 53+, has said that he wants the bailout to be implemented swiftly.

However, Nikos Nikolopoulos, a lawmaker with Tsipras’ junior coalition allies, the Independent Greeks, has also said that he opposes the measures and may be forced to resign.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Louise Ireland

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