By Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas
ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday, clearing a major hurdle for Greece’s approval of an accord to end a dispute over Macedonia’s name and averting the prospect of a snap election.
Tsipras called the confidence motion after his right-wing coalition partner Panos Kammenos quit the government on Jan. 13 in protest over the name deal signed between Athens and Skopje last year.
Parliament gave Tsipras 151 votes, meeting the threshold he required in the 300-member assembly. His leftist Syriza party has 145 seats in parliament while additional support was gleaned by defectors of Kammenos’s ANEL party and independents.
“I call upon you with hand on heart to give a vote of confidence to the government which gave battle, which bled, but managed to haul the country out of memorandums and surveillance,” Tsipras said, referring to Greece’s international lenders who kept the country on a tight leash for years.
He described the vote as a ‘vote of confidence in stability’.
“Our only concern is to continue to address the needs and interests of the Greek people,” Tsipras told journalists.
Greek opponents of the agreement say Macedonia’s new name – the Republic of North Macedonia, reached after decades of dispute between Athens and Skopje, represents an attempt to appropriate Greek identity.
Macedonia is the name of Greece’s biggest northern region. The deal was signed between the two countries in mid-2018, contingent on ratification of parliaments in both countries and a necessary step for the tiny Balkan state to be considered for European Union and NATO membership.
The Macedonian parliament ratified the pact last week. It has yet to be brought to a vote by Greece, though that is expected this month.
Tsipras, whose four-year term expires in October, has faced down parliament before on the Macedonia deal. He survived a no-confidence vote mounted by the opposition when the two states agreed on a compromise in June 2018.
But setting the stage for more acrimony over an issue which is a red flag for many Greeks, opposition parties have decried the deal as a national sell out, while demonstrators plan to protest in central Athens on Jan. 20. Past protests have drawn hundreds of thousands.
“This is a nationally-damaging agreement,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the main opposition New Democracy conservatives, told parliament during the confidence debate.
He repeatedly called the administration “a ragbag government” clutching at straws to stay in power.
“Elections are the only solution for the country to move ahead … for Greeks to take their fate into their hands. Just leave.” he said.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)