Greek government faces confidence vote after botched blizzard response

Greece’s main opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras, has filed a motion of no confidence in the government, saying its bungled response to a winter blizzard this week showed it was no longer fit for office.

Submitting the censure motion, the leftist former prime minister, said Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s administration was “the worst the country has known” since the collapse of military rule in 1974.

“Because we have the obligation to turn rage and despair into a force of political change, my conviction is that this government has to go as soon as possible,” he told MPs when he filed the motion on Thursday. “It has to go before it is too late – too late for society, the country and democracy.”

Thousands of motorists were stranded in their cars as a snowstorm of rare intensity swept over Greece on Monday, forcing the army to evacuate trapped drivers as public anger mounted. Blackouts, some lasting 48 hours, were reported across Athens.

Mitsotakis apologised for the state’s lack of preparedness, accepting “mistakes and shortcomings” in its handling of a weather event that had been forecast days earlier.

Tsipras accused the centre-right government of also mismanaging other emergencies, singling out last summer’s wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic. This week’s blizzard, which led to almost the entire public sector being shut down, had “buried hopes” of it ever learning from its mistakes, he said.

At more than 23,000 deaths from a population of 11 million, Greece has one of the highest Covid-19 fatality rates in the EU.

Tsipras’s move means there will be three days of parliamentary debate. But analysts dismissed the possibility of Mitsotakis, who controls a majority in the 300-seat parliament, losing a vote scheduled for Sunday. The government, which has been in office since July 2019, said the motion offered an opportunity for it to outline its achievements on multiple fronts.

“It is a tactical move by Tsipras at a time when he and his Syriza party are losing popularity because of a resurgent centre-left,” said Giorgos Kyrtsos, an MEP with the ruling New Democracy, referring to the reanimated Kinal party.

Yet Kyrtsos, who has also been a vocal critic of the government’s policies, said it was clear that trust in Mitsotakis’s “new managerial style”, even among diehard supporters of the Harvard-trained technocrat, was starting to wane.

“The perception of the government is beginning to change,” he said, expressing consternation over the “excessive control” it had attempted to exert over the media. “Nobody expects it to lose the vote, but the perception that it can solve problems was, I think, lost in the snow.”

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