ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers on Saturday debated for a final day on a no-confidence motion against the government over a deal to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Macedonia over the latter’s name.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-led coalition government is expected to survive the vote, set for later Saturday. His government controls 154 of parliament’s 300 seats, and the nationalist party that is a junior coalition partner says it will reject the motion despite opposing the agreement that Tsipras reached with his Macedonian counterpart.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who heads the junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party, stressed that Saturday’s vote was not on the Macedonia name deal, and vowed his party would vote against the deal itself when it is brought to parliament.
“Today we are not voting on the deal,” he said.
Tsipras and Macedonia’s Zoran Zaev settled on a deal Tuesday that would rename Greece’s northern neighbor North Macedonia, while Athens would drop its objections to the country joining NATO and the European Union.
The agreement aimed to end a bitter dispute that has roiled the two countries’ relations since shortly after the small country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece argued that the name “Macedonia” implied territorial claims on its province of the same name, which is the birthplace of the ancient warrior king Alexander the Great, and usurped its ancient Greek heritage and history.
But hardliners in both countries are furious at the deal, which they consider concedes too much to the other side.
Hundreds of protesters waving Greek flags gathered Saturday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of parliament, chanting anti-government slogans. Minor scuffles broke out. On Friday, several hundred people rallied in the same spot.
Still, the crowds were a far cry from the more than 100,000 people who turned out in the capital months ago to protest any compromises over Macedonia’s new name.
The deal is tentatively set to be signed by the two countries’ foreign ministers Sunday in the Prespa Lakes region on the border. The ratification process will take several months.
In Macedonia, the agreement must clear the hurdles of parliamentary ratification, a referendum in September and a constitutional amendment. Opponents include the conservative opposition party and the country’s president Gjorge Ivanov, who has said he will not sign off on the agreement. Zaev has said he will put the deal to a referendum in the fall.
In Greece, the deal only faces ratification in parliament once Macedonia has completed its part of the process.
However, the government’s junior coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, vehemently opposes the deal and has said it will not support the agreement when it comes up for ratification in parliament. That would leave Tsipras dependent on the support of opposition parties.
The no-confidence motion was brought by the head of the conservative main opposition New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The three-day parliamentary debate has been acrimonious at times, with Friday’s session disrupted by an extreme right-wing lawmaker calling on the country’s military to arrest top officials for backing the deal.
The lawmaker, from the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party, was evicted from the debate together with the rest of the party’s lawmakers. Golden Dawn expelled him from the party and police sought to arrest him after judicial officials charged him with committing preparatory acts for high treason.