The Greek PM has warned the nation of a collapse in living standards if MPs fail to pass an unpopular austerity bill demanded in return for a 130bn-euro ($170bn; £110bn) bailout.
In a TV address, Lucas Papademos said Greece was "just a breath away from Ground Zero".
The cabinet has approved the measures but five government ministers resigned.
Unions are holding a 48-hour strike, and thousands of protesters rallied in central Athens against the measures.
Riot police were on standby after clashes on Friday, but the demonstrations were mostly peaceful.
The austerity measures are being demanded by the eurozone and IMF - they must now be passed by the Greek parliament and approved by European finance ministers.
Meanwhile, as if to underscore how little things have changed, BBC World Service Television followed the footage of Papademos’ address with one by George Papandreou, Papademos’ predecessor who resigned on November 11 after failing to make any progress on the same problem.
One way to get a sense of just what it happening is to consult a recent post to NYRBlog by Timothy Snyder entitled “How Democracy Can Save Europe.” The following paragraph explains how little who is Prime Minister matters, particularly to the general Greek public who has to bear the burdens of austerity:
In an article that will soon be published in The American Interest, [Ivan] Krastev argues that the European financial crisis is but a symptom of a deeper malaise of European political culture. Europe is troubled, he says, by insecure majorities, the national populations of EU member-states who believe themselves to be threatened both by globalization in the streets (immigration) and globalization in the law (Brussels). As Krastev puts it, national governments have politics but no policy, since important decisions are made by the EU; the EU has policy but no politics, since decisions are not made by elected representatives. Sovereignty becomes a symbol: precisely because national politicians have yielded authority to the EU, they cling to the identity and comfort provided by traditional national states. This is true not just of small and weak states, but also of the major European powers, such as Germany.
A few paragraphs later Snyder applies this reasoning directly to Greece:
At the moment Greek voters can change the parties who rule them, but cannot change fiscal policies. These are decided in Berlin. Thus we have the emergence of pantomime republics.
That phrase “pantomime republics” is particularly telling. We are witnessing yet another instance of the concept of “elected representative” falling victim to what Max Weber called “loss of meaning” in his cautionary observations about a society dominated by market-based thinking. In other words the Greek electorate is in the same boat as the 99% of the Occupy movements, ostensibly freed from political totalitarianism but now bound by the helplessness of “pantomime republics” in the face of an investor class that cares more about quarterly reports than about people frustrated by the harsh reality that the long-aspired power to vote for elected representatives no longer amounts to anything.