Reuters in Athens theguardian.com, Friday 27 September 2013
Far-right party says the move is a weapon that could cause a 'political earthquake' by further destabilising shaky ruling coalition
Protesters demonstrating against Golden Dawn clash with police in Athens this week. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media
Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has threatened to pull out of parliament, a move that would trigger a wave of by-elections that could destabilise the country.
Its leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos warned late on Thursday night it might pull its MPs from parliament if a crackdown on the party in the wake of the death of an anti-fascist rapper did not stop.
"We have not reached a final decision yet. All options are open," Mihaloliakos said on Vergina TV.
A self-proclaimed Golden Dawn supporter has been accused of killing Pavlos Fyssas in Athens last week, prompting a court investigation into whether the country's third most popular party is a criminal organisation.
The stabbing sparked outrage and violent protests in the crisis-struck country. Police have been searching Golden Dawn party offices and several of its members were arrested or received suspended jail sentences for illegally carrying or owning weapons.
Golden Dawn has denied any links to the rapper's killing.
Golden Dawn has 18 out of parliament's 300 MPs. If they quit, they would have to be replaced through special elections in every electoral district they represent, which includes most of the country's biggest. If such by-elections were won by the opposition, as some polls indicate, the country's fragile two-party ruling coalition would become politically untenable, Mihaloliakos argued.
"Golden Dawn holds a weapon in its hands to cause a political earthquake. Those in charge should bear that well in mind," he said.
With political stability a key condition for the smooth implementation of Greece's EU/IMF bailout, senior officials have dismissed any notion that the government was under threat.
By-elections would not lead to a general vote that could destabilise the country, interior minister Yannis Mihelakis said on Thursday. "The whole affair has already damaged the country enough. A general election would just make things worse," he told Skai TV.
"It's not a threat. It's a great opportunity," deputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos told Reuters on Wednesday after then unconfirmed reports that Golden Dawn was considering withdrawing its MPs.
Golden Dawn has surged in popularity over the past year and has been accused by human rights groups of attacking immigrants and political opponents without the police intervening.
Greek prosecutors investigating Golden Dawn have found evidence that could help them establish that it is a criminal organisation, a senior court official told reporters on Wednesday.
That labelling is expected to be the first step for the government to begin reining in the party – an outright ban is difficult to push through under current Greek law.
The government has said it was instead planning to cut the party's funding and target members who may have masterminded attacks on immigrants and opponents as part of a criminal organisation.