ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers banded together Friday to keep an extreme right-wing party out of the position of deputy parliament speaker, leaving one of the seven posts vacant rather than filling it with a member of a group many consider to be neo-Nazi.
Golden Dawn won 18 of Parliament’s 300 seats in the June 17 elections, taking nearly 7 percent of the vote and horrifying Greece’s mainstream political establishment as the country reels from an economic crisis. As an opposition party in the seven-party Parliament, Golden Dawn was entitled to field a candidate for the post of one of the seven deputy speakers.
In Friday’s vote, parliament elected six deputy speakers but left the last one empty, as Golden Dawn candidate Polyvios Zisimopoulos failed to receive the minimum 75 votes required for the post. He received 41 votes in the secret ballot — meaning that the party won the support of an extra 23 deputies from outside its ranks.
Golden Dawn described Friday’s result a “constitutional violation” and said it would take its complaint to a European Court.
“This is their notion of democracy and how much they respect the will of half a million Greek voters,” the party said in a statement. “In practice all the parties of the establishment united, from the liberal center-right to the far left.”
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos told The Associated Press after the vote: “They have joined forces. They agreed on everything. I’d like to honor my 23 colleagues who voted for Golden Dawn. And I’d like to state that our exclusion … shows who the system is afraid of.”
Golden Dawn has been accused of violent attacks against immigrants, and had campaigned on a platform of expelling all immigrants and planting landmines along Greece’s borders. One of its new deputies recently made headlines by striking a female Communist Party candidate three times, and throwing a glass of water over another left-wing party member during a live television political talk show.
The country’s new lawmakers were sworn in on Thursday, as a protracted political crisis that led to two general elections and a series of power-sharing negotiations drew to an end. The uncertainty had roiled international markets, as questions arose about Greece’s ability to implement reforms required for it to continue receiving funds from its international bailout loans — the only thing keeping it from defaulting on its debts.
New Democracy, a conservative party led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has formed a coalition government with longtime socialist rivals PASOK, and the smaller Democratic Left party, which came in just behind Golden Dawn with 6.26 percent of the vote and 17 seats.
As the party with the most seats, New Democracy put forward its own candidate for the speaker of parliament. Longtime party member Evangelos Meimarakis, who served as defense minister from 2006-2009, was elected to the post in a morning vote with 223 votes of the 290 deputies present — a record number of votes since the restoration of democracy after the end of the 1967-74 military dictatorship.
Associated Press writer Derek Gatopoulos and TV producer Eftehia Katsareas contributed.