ATHENS: A Greek minister Monday gave the strongest indication yet that the government will call a confidence vote following a rebellion among lawmakers from the ruling Syriza party over the country's new bailout deal.
Energy Minister Panos Skourletis described such a parliamentary vote as "self-evident" following Friday's rebellion when almost a third of Syriza deputies abstained or voted against the agreement.
With Syriza's left wing showing little sign of returning to the party fold, Skourletis also alluded to possible early elections should Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lose a confidence motion. Tsipras had to rely on opposition support to get the bailout deal though parliament.
Greece's political turmoil has raised uncertainty over how the government might implement the bailout deal, which demands profound economic reform and tough austerity policies, without a workable majority.
The government has said its priority is to secure a start to funding from international creditors under the bailout program, Greece's third in five years, so that Athens can make a 3.2 billion euro debt repayment to the European Central Bank Thursday.
However, asked on Skai television about the possibility of a parliamentary confidence vote after this, Skourletis said: "I consider it self-evident after the deep wound in Syriza's parliamentary group for there to be such a move."
Tsipras has said he will call a Syriza congress after the summer to iron out the party's differences. But Skourletis raised the possibility of early polls should Tsipras fail in a confidence vote.
"If we go to elections soon, in three or four weeks if this option is chosen, obviously a party congress cannot be fruitful," he said.
Tsipras fired his last energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis for joining a previous rebellion. Lafazanis now leads Syriza members who oppose the tough conditions set by the eurozone and IMF that Tsipras had to accept in return for the 86 billion euros ($95.5 billion) in loans.
Last week Lafazanis took a step toward breaking away from Syriza, itself a coalition of the radical left, by calling for a new anti-bailout movement.
The chances that the hard left wing will relent and rally behind Tsipras in a confidence vote look slim.
"The bailout cannot be a unifying basis for Syriza," Stathis Leoutsakos, a lawmaker who joined the rebellion told Skai TV. "The bailout cannot be the program of Syriza, it falls outside its values, these are incompatible notions."
On Sunday, Greece's socialist PASOK party joined the main conservative opposition in saying it would not back Tsipras in any confidence vote.
PASOK made clear that while it had backed the government over the bailout for the sake of saving Greece from financial ruin, that support would not continue.
The party blamed Tsipras and Panos Kammenos, who leads the minority partner in the coalition government, for the fact that Greece had to take yet another bailout.
"The government has signed the third and most onerous bailout. All the negative consequences for the country and its citizens bear the signatures of Mr Tsipras and Mr Kammenos," the party said in a statement. "We have no confidence in the Tsipras-Kammenos government and of course will not give it if we are asked."
PASOK, once the dominant force on the Greek left, now has just 13 members in the 300 seat parliament but Tsipras may need all the support he can get. Crucially, it did not say whether it would vote against the government, or merely abstain.
On Friday, support for the government from within its own coalition parties fell below 120 votes, the minimum needed to survive a confidence vote if some others abstain.
The conservative New Democracy, which has 76 seats, has also said it would not back the government, which won power in January on promises to reverse austerity policies.
Opinion polls show Tsipras remains popular, even though he presided over the closure of banks for three weeks, the imposition of capital controls and a near brush with financial collapse. This has raised doubts about how much the opposition parties may want to force new elections.
Skourletis said that if Syriza opts for snap polls, the party would aim for an absolute majority.
"Based on my feeling of how things stand, ... I think such a goal is attainable," he said, playing down the possibility of post-election collaboration with the likes of New Democracy, PASOK and Potami, a pro-European centrist party.