Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Socialist government is in grave danger of collapsing following a recent wave of defections in protest of his draconian austerity budgets,

The ruling Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) party suffered another high profile defection when Milena Apostolaki, a former deputy minister, quit the party and declared herself an independent to express her opposition to the referendum Papandreou has proposed in connection with the recent bailout rescue deal that European Union leaders agreed to at a summit last week in Brussels.

As a result, the Pasok group now has a slender majority in parliament (152 seats out of 300 MPs), making Papandreou’s political future just that much more tenuous.

Although Papandreou’s cabinet has backed the referendum, opposition groups and many within Pasok are adamantly opposed to it.

Even more galling for Papandreou, six other members of his own Pasok party have called for his resignation.

The six dissident MPs -- Giorgos Thomas, Vangelis Malesios, Stefanos Manikas, Dimitris Batzelis, Yiannis Nikolaou and Minas Stavrakakis – have characterized Papandreou's plan to hold a referendum over the rescue agreement “irresponsible” and threatens the country’s stability.

In a letter, the six lawmakers wrote: The country urgently needs a government with political legitimacy, a plan of national resurrection and significant managerial skills. The present government has none of these necessary prerequisites. The government's policy leads to asphyxiation. Day by day, the country is experiencing conditions of dissolution, illegality and an absence of governance.

The letter added: “There can be no political way out for the country, without elections. The foremost duty of any prime minister is to maintain political normalcy. The governing body appears to be clinging onto power and is even prepared to make rash moves so that it does not have to imminently face the public's verdict.

Moreover, the development comes ahead of a crucial vote of confidence scheduled for Friday in the Athenian Parliament.

If that wasn’t enough of a headache for Papandreou, the Prime Minister will face a barrage of hostile questions from prominent European leaders including Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France over why he chose to put the rescue deal to a referendum (one that is likely to be defeated, given the Greek public’s anger at the economic disaster).

“Any further defections [by Pasok MPs] could lead to a government collapse, a snap election, and weeks of political uncertainty,” said Blanka Kolenikova, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.

“The future course of events will depend on the outcome of the confidence vote, but Greece is bracing for weeks of volatility and political instability.”

Kolenikova added: “Dissent is rife and the PASOK MPs' support is no longer set in stone. A government collapse would be unwelcome as it would lead to a snap election at which no Greek party would be guaranteed to win a parliamentary majority. In such a scenario, Greece would face weeks, if not months, of political uncertainty while parties wrangled over the formation of a coalition government -- most likely with one of the radical parties currently in opposition. The reform program would stall and uncertainty in the markets would deepen.”