The head of Greece’s nationalist Golden Dawn party suggested he could withdraw his lawmakers from Parliament, a move that could spark a series of by-elections and threaten the country’s stability.
“Within the context of our legal constitutional rights we will exhaust all means to defend our political honor,” Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the head of the party, told reporters late yesterday. When asked if his lawmakers quitting Parliament would destabilize the country, he responded: “Everything is open. Golden Dawn will defend itself.”
Greek authorities have stepped up pressure on the party since one of its supporters killed a 34-year-old man on Sept. 18, sparking police raids on Golden Dawn offices and a judicial probe into whether the party can be banned or characterized as a criminal gang to limit its activities.
Golden Dawn, which has denied involvement in the killing, has 18 lawmakers in the 300-seat Parliament and has grown in popularity to become Greece’s third most-popular party through anti-immigrant rhetoric, polls show.
A Golden Dawn walkout would technically lead to a series of by-elections in the constituencies where the party holds seats, which include some of the country’s largest, such as Athens and Thessaloniki. By-elections are uncommon in Greece and some commentators in the Greek media have suggested the development could lead to general elections.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Sept. 19 he’ll fight to keep the country on track in the wake of the response to the killing.
Golden Dawn is the only Greek party to have gained in polls since entering Parliament in May last year. In June 2012 the party, which includes officials who have expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, got 7 percent of the vote, tapping into a vein of protest and anger against record unemployment that has accompanied a recession now in its sixth year.
“Golden Dawn is a legal political movement, whose ascent has displeased those who have squandered the sweat of the Greek people for decades,” Michaloliakos said. “Criminals and criminal gangs are those who bankrupted the country and handed over our national sovereignty.”
Polls since the killing show decreasing support for the party. An Alco poll on Sept. 25 showed Golden Dawn falling by 4 percentage points to 6.8 percent. That still leaves the party as the third-strongest after Samaras’s New Democracy and anti-bailout party Syriza.