ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's coalition government survived a no-confidence motion tabled by the main opposition party early Monday, and the prime minister ended three days of debate by saying the debt-ridden country should be ready to borrow mainly from the financial markets by the end of next year.
"We have got through the most difficult phase ... Greece should be able to rejoin the markets by the end of next year," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said. The no-confidence motion filed by the main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party fell well short of the 151 votes needed to pass, with 124 lawmakers voting in favor and 153 against. Besides SYRIZA, the motion was supported by the Communist Party, the right-wing populist Independent Greeks and the extreme right Golden Dawn.
The no-confidence motion was tabled Thursday, a few hours after Greek riot police ended a nearly five-month protest by fired workers broadcasting from what was once the headquarters of the defunct ERT state broadcaster. The government, under pressure by Greece's international creditors to reform the public sector, decided to close ERT in June.
Although the motion of no confidence had limited chances of passing, SYRIZA used the debate to criticize the coalition government for its policies. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras accused it of being "under foreign control" and of taxing the poor to protect the rich.
Tsipras also called for early elections, saying "only the sovereign people" can cancel the bailout agreements by which Greece has received over 240 billion euros ($320 billion) to keep it from going bankrupt. That money has come in exchange for severe austerity measures that have exacerbated a heavy recession, contributed to a record 27 percent unemployment and cut deeply into Greeks' disposable income.
Greece has been surviving on international rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro since 2010, after a combination of dismal financial leadership, loss of investor confidence and the global recession brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Successive governments have passed repeated rounds of deep spending cuts and tax hikes to secure the bailout loans.
Tsipras promised his government would "repeal all the (bailout) laws and will enact laws to promote economic growth." Samaras replied by accusing SYRIZA of frequently changing its positions in a populist grab for votes, supporting often violent reactions to government policies and rejecting necessary spending cuts. He defended the ruling coalition's program, saying it would result in a primary budget surplus this year — excluding spending on servicing the country's debt — and enable the government to start borrowing from the markets again by the end of 2014.
Samaras also promised that there would be no more across-the-board cuts in wages and pensions and said years of tough efforts had begun to bear fruit. By 2016, he said, a real budget surplus would be achieved.
"We want to turn Greece from a cautionary tale to an example to be emulated," Samaras said. The no-confidence motion behind him, Samaras now will have to concentrate on difficult negotiations with the so-called troika of Greece's creditors — the European Union, the European Central Fund and the International Monetary Fund — who have shown themselves skeptical of Greece's budget surplus claims and are at odds with the government's revenue projections.
Lengthy talks of troika representatives with finance minister Yannis Stournaras were adjourned Sunday and will resume Tuesday.