Greek lawmakers approved the country’s third bailout agreement with international creditors on Friday morning after an all-night debate in parliament, hours before European finance ministers were due to meet in Brussels to decide whether to endorse the deal.
Greece’s parliament comfortably passed the bailout deal, with 222 lawmakers voting in favor and 64 voting against. Another 14 lawmakers abstained or were absent. But the vote deepened the divisions in the ruling left-wing Syriza party and, many analysts believe, may well hasten early elections in Greece. Greece and its international creditors reached agreement on the terms of the country’s new bailout program, which if ratified by other eurozone countries could unlock essential financing over the next three years. Charles Forelle has the details.
Syriza suffered a major rebellion in Friday’s vote, with 32 out of its 149 lawmakers voting against the agreement with creditors negotiated by their leader, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and another 11 Syriza deputies abstaining. Among those in Syriza’s parliamentary group who voted “no” to the deal was Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s outspoken finance minister until his ousting in July.
The 300-member parliament passed the bill anyway thanks to the support of many opposition lawmakers from center-right and center-left parties. Dissenters in Syriza have previously voted against Mr. Tsipras over measures to secure the bailout, but the scale of Friday’s revolt was the biggest yet. Once Greece has secured financing to repay €3.2 billion ($3.5 billion) of bonds held by the European Central Bank that fall due on Aug. 20, Mr. Tsipras is considering a vote of confidence to shore up his government for now, government officials say.
The all-day-and-night parliamentary debate was one of the most exhausting of Greece’s five-year debt crisis for participants and watchers, thanks to interminable procedural wrangling prompted in large part by the speaker of parliament, Syriza member Zoe Konstantopoulou. Ms. Konstantopoulou, a high-profile opponent of the bailout program, resisted for hours on Thursday night the government’s efforts to speed the bill’s passage through parliament, and eventually announced she no longer supports the Prime Minister.
A parliament that in recent years has frequently held crucial votes on bailout measures after midnight this time was unable to even start the speeches until the small hours of Friday. After a full day and night of bickering, it was mid morning in Athens before bleary-eyed lawmakers finally voted. Syriza’s deepening internal rift, evident since July when Mr. Tsipras agreed to a bailout deal that commits Greece to tough austerity policies in return for international financing, is widely expected to lead to a split in the party in coming weeks, with the anti-bailout dissidents breaking away.
Many analysts expect, and government officials are hinting at, parliamentary elections in the fall, less than a year after Syriza swept to power in elections this January. Government officials hope that fresh elections could allow Mr. Tsipras to consolidate power and implement the bailout deal while purging Syriza’s ranks of dissident lawmakers.
The dissenters against the bailout deal argue that it breaks Syriza’s promises to end five years of tough austerity policies and end the country’s close supervision by its main creditors, the rest of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. In a speech to parliament on Friday morning, Mr. Tsipras argued that he had had no choice but to accept a new bailout program, and that the only alternative—an exit from the euro—would also have left Greece dependent on European financing. “We made a difficult but responsible decision,” Mr. Tsipras said.
The new bailout still faces hurdles before becoming reality. At Friday’s meeting in Brussels, finance ministers from Germany and some other eurozone countries are expected to probe critically whether the program, which includes up to €86 billion in loans for the Athens government, will maintain enough pressure on Greece to overhaul its economy and repair its finances.
Germany’s government also needs to reassure its own parliament, which is expected to vote on the deal early next week, that the International Monetary Fund will continue to take part in the Greek bailout effort. The IMF wants Berlin to grant Greece major debt relief, however—an unpopular concession in Berlin. European Union officials put extra pressure on Germany to agree to Greek debt relief on Thursday, in a leaked analysis of Greece’s debt trajectory that concluded the crisis-battered country can’t regain solvency without a significant restructuring of its bailout loans.