By Vasiliki Siouti
Was Antonis Samaras trapped?  The pervading assumption is that, given the way things have turned out, bringing forward the date of the presidential election was a one-way course of action.
At this juncture, the government does not have the clout to implement the harsh measures demanded by the troika because doing so would be tantamount to political suicide ahead of looming elections.   
The conditions (or alibi) set by many of the lawmakers to vote for the government’s presidential nominee are that it either strikes a deal on the country’s debt or that it gets on a path leading to an exit from Greece’s bailout programme. Otherwise they would not be able to justify their vote for the coalition’s nominee as it would appear they were endorsing the continuation of a policy they had disagreed with.
Up until early fall, Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos, the government’s deputy PM, were reassuring in their statements that they would meet these demands, assuming they would get at least a promise from the country’s lenders which they could then present as a solution. This is what once more triggered the talk of Greece’s exit from the bailout agreement.
Initially, the country’s lenders showed understanding to what they believed were Greek antics, but it wasn’t long before this collected approach gave way to outright annoyance at what they believed was the deliberate cultivation of the wrong expectations to the Greek electorate.   
The representatives of the German government do not hide the fact that they still consider Greece a ‘special case’ that should be governed under its whip, otherwise it will stray off the course which they believe is the right one. This is why they demand from Greek politicians to tell the Greek people that they have to endure more sacrifices and not to promise them an exit from the bailout agreements. Besides, the prospect of a bailout agreement exit is not something the Germans had ever acquiesced to.

Nonetheless, in spite of of the fact that the prime minister blasts unilateralism when it comes to Syriza, he not only proceeded unilaterally, albeit verbally, to decide Greece’s exit from the bailout but he also fell flat on his face.
The first backlash was in Berlin when Mr Samaras visited Angela Merkel and was unable to extract the slightest concession — and subsequently returned empty handed. This was followed by him begging lenders to make some some sort of concession, claiming that otherwise Syriza would come to power. The lenders remained firm in their stance.
Merkel and Schauble believe that even the slightest concession to Greece – a country ‘undergoing rehabilitation’ – would set a very bad example to the entire eurozone and would threaten to unravel what they had imposed through iron discipline.   
As far as Syriza is concerned, the German government insists it does not intend to move an inch and believes that Germany and everyone else in the eurozone for that matter, are fully fortified against any danger that may arise. They believe that Greece is tied hand and foot and does not possess the capability it had in 2010 to press the red button and blow up the eurozone. (However, there are German analysts that are on a different page from the one represented by the government in Berlin is and are warning against complacency.)
The German leadership appears certain that a possible Syriza government would be forced to comply or else they will see Greece out of the monetary union; an eventuality they have already prepared for, while Greece, so they believe, has not. An exit without preparation  could easily turn into a disaster in the absence of a determined and prepared leadership at the helm.

Did Schauble know of  Samaras’ decision?
Did the Germans know that Samaras and Venizelos were planning to announce an earlier date for the presidential election as Schauble has implied, or, to be more precise, some had interpreted that he implied?
Not exactly, according to our information. Antonis Samaras had messaged the German government – in the bid to persuade it – that if it did not give something, he would be forced to bring forward the date of the election – otherwise he would become a hostage and his party would vanish.
The German government did not exactly agree. It made clear however that it would not back down and told him to do whatever he saw fit.
On closer inspection, Schauble’s remarks were quite ambiguous, because on the one hand he praised Samaras (not without a hint of sarcasm)  and, on the other, he drew comparisons with George Papandreou.
Sources say Schauble and Merkel were probably annoyed with Samaras yet they remain unfazed over the election’s outcome.   

Last Monday, the PM sprang a surprise in the belief his move would allow him to take control of the situation and force the desired result. However, bringing forward the presidential election date entails a huge risk, which could lead to the government’s fall. Everything is open, for now.
How a defeat was presented as a victory
Up until a fortnight ago. the government was begging the country’s lenders to back the claim about Greece’s exit from the bailout. This would have been presented on the domestic front as a victory and would have served as the pretext for the MPs that wanted to vote for coalition’s presidential candidate.
During the talks between Samaras’ envoys with MPs in the bid to muster the 180 votes needed in parliament to elect the president, many of them said they needed a political justification. To show that harsh austerity has come to an end and that they are not giving the kiss of life to these policies which they supposedly disagree with.
Antonis Samaras and Vangelis Venizelos were, up until last month, fighting to avoid an extension of the bailout memorandum. They were claiming that if they can convince lenders that an extension of the agreement was not necessary and that only only a precautionary credit line would suffice, they would present that as a government success – especially if they could secure another concession, even a symbolic one, about the debt.
But the lenders were not moved and the government was forced to ask for a two-month extension of the memorandum which it did not want. 

The MPs did not secure the pretext they were asking from the government so they could vote for its nominee. They got a bailout agreement extension instead.

So after all this, Samaras decided to blackmail MPs for their votes. His message was somewhat like this: If you want to keep your parliamentary seats you have no other choice but to back me or else you will fall with me. Everyone knows that if national elections are held many MPs will lose their seats, which they will probably never win back.
Associates of the PM remained optimistic in recent days because, they believe, MPs will look out for their own interest as ‘Syriza cannot secure a seat for all of them. So they have no reason to go along with them as they will lose everything’”.

Furthermore, Venizelos was concerned about the stance of MPs that are affiliated to former Pasok leader and PM George Papandreou and the rumours that he is planning to launch a new party which some polls suggesting he would get between 4-4.5%. He informed Samaras that they should move preemptively before Papandreou could damage them.    

Samaras’ associates continue to say they are optimistic that they can get the 180 votes he needs, if the government can get something from the Europeans, even in the 11th hour. But it’s probably too late for that.