Greece's parliament approved early Wednesday deeply unpopular austerity measures despite worsening violence, in a vote vital toward securing international funds and preventing the Euro zone's first sovereign default.
Lawmakers approved a five-year package of spending cuts, tax rises and state asset sales by a comfortable margin of 155 votes to 138 in a roll-call vote, handing a significant victory to embattled Prime Minister George Papandreou.
We must avoid the country's collapse at all costs. Now is not the time to step back, the Socialist premier told lawmakers in a final appeal just before the crucial vote.
The bigger than expected margin suggested the government should be able on Thursday to push through laws implementing detailed budget measures and privatizations.
With the country on the brink of bankruptcy and social unrest mounting, it remains unclear whether the government can stick to a tight EU/IMF-imposed schedule to implement the harsh measures, even if it wins all this week's parliamentary votes.
The EU and the IMF have said Greece must adopt the austerity plan, with 28.6 billion Euros in savings, and the implementation measures to receive the next 12 billion Euro slice of emergency loans by mid-July.
The full pain of pay and benefit cuts and swinging tax increases has yet to be felt, and public anger is boiling. Only one PASOK party deputy voted against the plan, and he was immediately expelled from the party by Papandreou.
At least one opposition deputy broke ranks with the main conservative New Democracy party to vote yes on the austerity package and one of three PASOK rebels changed heart.
PASOK now holds 154 seats in the 300-member chamber and was helped by the abstention of a small centre-right splinter group of five deputies led by former foreign minister Dora Bakoyanis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe's reluctant paymaster and the main contributor to the Greek bailout, was first to praise the brave Greek vote on the fiscal package.
The decision was brave as well as necessary, Merkel told a meeting on financial regulation in Berlin, adding: ”I find it especially regrettable that the Greek opposition is not supporting the reform package.