Greece PM Tsipras faces confidence vote ahead of triple election challenge

Athens (AFP) –


Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to survive a vote of confidence in parliament on Friday, as he seeks to shore up support ahead of a triple election challenge that kicks off this month.

Greece will hold local elections at the same time as European Parliament polls on May 26, followed by a national vote expected in October.

Tsipras called the confidence vote -- his second of the year -- after the country's rightwing opposition sought to censure one of his government's junior ministers.

"I ask for the confidence of parliament and the Greek people for May 26 to implement the next four years of our social recovery plan," Tsipras said Thursday before leaving for an EU summit in the Romanian city of Sibiu.

He can count on 152 votes in the 300-seat parliamentary chamber -- enough to carry the motion.

After four years in power, Tsipras is trailing in the polls to the main opposition New Democracy party and is hoping to galvanise his leftist Syriza party in the run-up to the end of his term in October.

"The European and local elections are in principle considered to be secondary votes compared to the national polls," said Thanassis Diamantopoulos, politics professor at Panteion University in Athens.

"But this time, the European elections are almost as decisive for Greece," he said, because they were "a kind of dress rehearsal" for the national legislative vote.

Earlier this week Tsipras called the confidence vote after New Democracy had sought to censure deputy health minister Pavlos Polakis.

Polakis drew fire after saying it was "shameful" that a New Democracy EU election candidate -- 34-year-old psychiatrist Stelios Kybouropoulos, who suffers spinal muscular atrophy -- had legally used a disability quota to find a job at a state hospital.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it was "blackmail" that Tsipras had "turned the censure motion into a vote of confidence", calling the prime minister a "liar" and a "hypocrite".

- Economic pitch -

Tsipras meanwhile is hoping to capitalise on the country's economic performance under his watch, as the country slowly emerges from under the weight of years of crippling austerity measures.

On Tuesday he announced sweeping tax cuts on food and dining, energy and hotel accommodation, as well as unveiling an extra monthly stipend for the country's poorest pensioners.

He also said that government savings and a better-than-expected fiscal year meant Greece would be able to pay off 3.6 billion euros ($4.03 billion) in "costly" loans from the International Monetary Fund.

The opposition slammed the measures as "political opportunism" aimed at buying votes.

The headline of the liberal Kathimerini newspaper read "Tsipras' last bet" on Wednesday following the announcement.

Despite an economic recovery since 2017, Greeks are still battling their way back from a deep recession and the unemployment rate remains the highest in the eurozone at 18 percent.