Tens of thousands of demonstrators have surrounded the Greek Parliament in Athens, forcing lawmakers to postpone a vote on further austerity required for another EU bailout loan.
The demonstration is the latest in a string of weeklong nationwide protests that shut down most public transport, schools, banks and government offices.
The new measures being debated amount to some 13.5 billion euros in cuts by 2016.
Once the vote finally takes place, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to narrowly win the support required to pass the austerity package. Samaras’ 176-member conservative-liberal coalition needs to gather 151 votes out of 300 in parliament for the new measures to pass.
The second day of the nationwide strike, which is expected to last the rest of the week, has seen most of the country brought to a standstill, with public transport, schools and air traffic control shut down. Hospitals are also working with skeleton crews. Media broadcasts and publications were halted until further notice when journalists joined the strikers.
A new draft of budget cuts is required for Greece to qualify for the next loan, totaling more than 31 billion euros ($39.63 billion), from the ‘Troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The new bailout was put on hold after Greece failed to reach its earlier fiscal commitments. The Greek Parliament remains divided over the issue, with the Democratic Left Party that comprises one-third of the governing coalition refusing to back the measures, which has pledged to vote ‘present’ instead of ‘no.’
The measures stipulate a two-year increase in the Greek retirement age to 67, and several tax hikes. The new package also includes provisions making it easier to fire civil servants, which has provoked the ire of public workers amid a current unemployment rate of over 25 percent.
The vote represents a crucial test for Samaras’ government, as a ‘yes’ vote would ensure more cash for Athens to pay off its debts later this month. A ‘no’ vote could shatter Samaras’ fragile coalition.
More cuts, more protests
Anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece have frequently turned violent, leading to clashes between police and disgruntled youths.
On Tuesday, crowds numbered as high as 35,000 in Athens as Greeks marched to condemn the government for sparing the nation’s wealthy while saddling the poor with austerity.
Earlier, Samaras said that this round of budget cuts would be the last to affect wages and pensions. However, Panagiotis Sotiris, a lecturer at the University of the Aegean, thinks there’s more budgetary pain ahead.
“Every austerity package in the last two and a half years was supposed to be the last one. So it won’t be the last one this time. We are going to see more of this,” Sotiris told RT. “In just two days of discussion, the Parliament is going to pass a huge law. We are very far from democratic procedure. This is a set of measures, which are actually dictated by the Troika.”
The government also needs to clear another hurdle on Sunday: The passage of the 2013 budget, which will require gaining the support of the Democratic Left.