Greece's ruling coalition hit by departure of Democratic Left

The junior partner's 14 legislators have left the agreement, over the closure of the state broadcaster
  • @James_Legge

Greece's ruling coalition government has been left with a tiny majority after the junior partner left in disagreement over the abrupt closure of the state broadcaster.

Last week, prime minister Antonis Samaras announced he had pulled the plug on ERT, sacking all 2,656 employees. Both Pasok and the Democratic Left - who support Samaras' conservative-led coalition - objected to the decision.

And today, the Democratic Left party has left the coalition.

The leftist party's departure will be a blow to the conservative Samaras, who is left with a three-seat majority in parliament, making it tougher to pass unpopular reforms, including the pledged sackings of 15,000 public sector employees by 2015 in return for the country's international bailout money.

Democratic Left have yet to decide whether to offer external support in parliament to keep the bailout on track.

In a televised statement, Samaras said: "I want us to continue together as we started but I will move on either way."

His spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, said Samaras had sufficient majority "to lead the country out of the crisis".

The reforms are demanded by Greece's foreign creditors. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund will next month inspect whether the country remains on course to make the cuts.

Samaras's conservative New Democracy party and its remaining socialist PASOK ally command 153 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, so they can muddle through for a while without the 14 departing lawmakers.

At least two independent legislators have suggested they would back Samaras's government, which came to power a year ago in an uneasy pro-bailout coalition aimed at ensuring Greece stayed in the euro zone after nearly going bankrupt.

The coalition has bickered over a range of issues from austerity policies to immigration, and lawmakers from Samaras's parties have accused Democratic Left of blocking public sector reforms needed to secure bailout funds.

Officials from all three parties ruled out snap elections, which would derail the bailout programme, for now.

"The country doesn't need elections," Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis said in a statement, saying the party would continue with its reform policy.

The decision to pull out was not unanimous and four party officials later called it a "suicidal" move. "This was a leap into the void," they said in a statement.

ERT remains off air despite the high court ruling that it be brought back on. Workers have continued broadcasting an online 24-hour bootleg version from their headquarters.

The corporation's payroll costs have fallen since the country's first bailout in 2010. It makes money primarily through adverts and obligatory contributions from all Greeks, whether they own a TV or not.

After years of murky finances, the corporation is now turning a modest profit, and critics argue that sacking its entire workforce makes no financial sense, particularly as the government will have to compensate all laid-off workers.

The closure on June 11 sparked days of protests outside the corporation's Athens headquarters, and was sharply criticised abroad.

PASOK is expected to get a bigger role in the government after Democratic Left's departure, with its lawmakers likely to fill more ministerial positions as part of a reshuffle expected as early as over the weekend.