The Greek prime minister, of the left-wing Syriza Party, announced his decision following a meeting with right-wing Kammenos, the head of the Independent Greeks Party (ANEL), at the Maximos Mansion in the capital, Athens, on Sunday, ahead of an upcoming parliamentary vote to end a 27-year name dispute with Macedonia.
“I have taken my decision and have informed the president of parliament that we will immediately move to the process outlined by the constitution for the renewal of the confidence in my government,” Tsipras told reporters.
He also paid tribute to Kammenos for his “irreplaceable, important contribution” to the government, saying he and the defense minister had had “honorable and honest cooperation” for almost four years, Presstv reported.
Tsipras also appointed Adm. Evaggelos Apostolakis, the director of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, as the new defense minister.
In the 300-member Hellenic Parliament, Kammenos’s party has seven seats, which has so far enabled Tsipras’s government — with 145 legislators and the support of one other lawmaker — to pass the threshold of 150 deputies needed to run a coalition.
Earlier in the day, Kammenos said he would pull his party’s ministers and junior ministers from his party out of the government, leaving Tsipras bereft of a parliamentary majority and raising the possibility of snap elections.
However, it is not yet immediately clear whether the two other ministers from ANEL — the tourism minister, Elena Kountoura, and the deputy minister for rural development, Vasilis Kokkalis — would quit the government as Kammenos did.
Kammenos, himself a parliament member, further clearly warned that if any of the other six legislators of the Independent Greeks Party voted in favor of the incumbent administration, they would be expelled from the party.
On Wednesday, Tsipras, a leftist, said in a televised interview that if his current coalition government broke up, he would prefer to call snap elections rather than head a minority government, which would be “a problem politically.”
However, his Sunday decision showed that he preferred the less risky move of calling for an immediate confidence vote.
The deal and its controversy
Since 1991, when Macedonia declared its independence from former Yugoslavia, Greece, a member of NATO and the European Union (EU), has insisted that the name Macedonia implied territorial claims on a northern Greek province of the same name.
Although Macedonia became a member of the United Nations (UN) in 1993, due to the name dispute with Greece, it was admitted under the provisional description the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a name that is also used by NATO and the EU.
During the past 27 years, Greece has barred its neighbor from becoming a NATO and EU member state, saying that Macedonia must change its name if it wants to become a member state of these two international bodies.
However, back in June, Athens and Skopje reached a landmark deal, according to which the small Balkan country was named the Republic of North Macedonia.
The deal triggered protest rallies in both countries, particularly in Greece, with protesters expressing their dissent against any compromise.
On Friday, Macedonian legislators voted the agreement through, with 81 lawmakers of the 120-member parliament supporting the name change, securing the required two-thirds majority to ratify it. Now, it needs backing from Greece’s Hellenic Parliament.
Kammenos has time and again said that he is ideologically opposed to the Macedonia deal. “The Macedonia issue does not allow me not to sacrifice my post,” he said after the meeting with Tsipras on Sunday.
“I thanked the prime minister for the cooperation and I explained to him that for this national issue we cannot continue,” he said, adding that his party “is pulling out of the government.”
Greece’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 2019.