Why the Greeks forgave Tsipras’ pirouettes around austerity and voted again for SYRIZA

Arrival and doorstep statement by Alexis Tsipras the just reelected Prime Minister of Greece, at the Informal meeting of Heads of State or Government, on 23 September 2015, in Brussels. (European Council – Council of the European Union Audiovisual Services, Snapshot from a video footage).

Arrival and doorstep statement by Alexis Tsipras the just reelected Prime Minister of Greece, at the Informal meeting of Heads of State or Government, on 23 September 2015, in Brussels. (European Council – Council of the European Union Audiovisual Services. Snapshot from a video footage).

Last Sunday the Greek voters, at least those who went to the polls, gave to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras not only a second chance to continue in the premiership, but voted also for Panos Kamenos a nationalist right winger, the junior partner of the governing SYRIZA-ANEL coalition. And this as if nothing had happened in the crisis stricken country during the past eight tormenting months. The result of the 20 September legislative elections surpassed even the most optimistic predictions for the SYRIZA backing. A number of SYRIZA prominent members commented that the outcome was beyond their expectations.

This party won 145 seats and the ANEL elected 10 deputies, thus forming a rather comfortable majority of 155 in a Parliament of 300. The major opposition party, New Democracy, under its interim President Evagelos Meimarakis elected 75 deputies. Unfortunately, the third largest Parliamentary group is formed by 18 deputies of Golden Down, an extremist write wing – almost fascist group, currently under trial in the Court of Appeal accused of being a ‘criminal organization’. An alliance of the socialist PASOK and DIMAR (Democratic Left) won 17 seats and reached the fourth position.

Why SYRIZA chooses ANEL

In total eight parties crossed the 3% threshold and entered the Parliament. The communist, if not Stalinist, KKE elected 15 deputies, POTAMI (the river) a personal affair of a TV persona won 11 seats and a real harlequin, Vassilis Leventis, and his Union of Centrists managed to win 9 seats. As noted above, ANEL, the junior deputy in the governing coalition of SYRIZA-ANEL elected 10 deputies. This is an awkward partnership though. Their connecting material is rather difficult to identify but in many respects it represents the secret recipe of their new win. To be reminded that this alliance governed Greece after the 25 January election until Thursday 20 August this year.

On that day Tsipras resigned, as the one-third of his SYRIZA comrades abandoned the party and formed a new one, the ‘Popular Unity” opposing the agreement with the EU. They fought hard to enter the Parliament as an anti-austerity independent party, but last Sunday the voters denied them this prospect. As everybody knows, Tsipras made a full U-turn in the strategy for the economy and all of a sudden he accepted for his country at the end of July a third bailout and austerity program, as the creditors demanded. The immediate result was the break up of SYRIZA. Until then he and his SYRIZA party had waged a long fight against the EU’s firmness to impose two programs of devastating austerity (2010-2012 and 2012-2014) on Greece. Those programs caused an unbelievable recession. Greece has lost by now one-quarter of its GDP, while unemployment skyrocketed from single digits to 26%.

From denouncement to capitulation

SYRIZA and personally Tsipras using a strongly denunciative rhetoric were catapulted to power in a short period. From a marginal 4.5% of the vote in 2009 Tsipras got a 36% winning position in the January 2015 election. Kamenos followed the same path but starting from the other, the right part of the political spectrum. He left the center right New Democracy party in 2012, when the party’s then leader Antonis Samaras made a similar U-turn like Tsipras this summer. At that time Samaras signed the second austerity program (2012-2014) after winning the June 2012 election, abandoning his anti-austerity rhetoric.

This summer though Kamenos didn’t quit his partner Tsipras, although this last one performed the same political pirouette vis-à-vis the creditors’ demands as Samaras did in 2012. It’s not only Kamenos though who didn’t dump Tsipras. The Greek voters never abandoned him. Last Sunday they supported Tsipras choice to sign an austerity program and reinstituted him in government together with Kamenos.

Why forgive Tsipras?

There are two reasons for this. The most important one is that the Greeks were finally convinced that it’s impossible to stay in the Eurozone and of course in the EU, without the required sacrifices. Invariably all opinion polls turn out a pro-euro result of at least 70% but at the same time the majority of people rejected the needed structural reforms. This antithesis was eventually resolved last Sunday. The vast majority of Greeks accepted both. Of course this was the hard way to do it, but now all the major political parties (SYRIZA, New Democracy, PASOK-DIMAR, Potami, ANEL) support the Eurozone way for Greece. Only the communist party KKE and the fascist New Dawn reject a European path for the country.

What about reforms?

Unfortunately, all along the past crucial five years the Greek political elite including Samaras and Tsipras preferred to ride on the natural public detest for austerity, just to gain short-lived political prominence. They both refrained from telling people the truth and didn’t cooperate between them to bring about the badly needed reforms in the country. Consequently, the cost to do so now has skyrocketed and the Greek sovereign debt is predicted to break all previous records. The new, third program that Tsipras just agreed with the creditors this summer includes new loans of €86 billion, to be used mainly to pay off previous debts and also recapitalize the banks.

The new and the old

The second reason why the voters again backed the SYRIZA-ANEL governing alliance is that they represent a new political force, quite different from the New Democracy and PASOK traditional parties. Those last two political blocks are widely held responsible for leading the country to its 2010 financial stalemate. They have been alternating in government for at least forty years until January 2015. It’s not only that though. All along this long period the country was stricken by continuous reports, revelations, confessions and judicial prosecutions for corruption in the state and government. A careful observer has to add to that the blatant maladministration and the catastrophic bureaucracy.

Public contracts, military purchases, the tax administration, the licensing and control structures for business starts and controls, everything has have been notoriously stricken by corruption. Reports about kickbacks pocketed by politicians and high-ranking public servants are a daily topic for the Press. In reality the entire Greek public administration and to a large extend the judiciary system function for their own sake. They can torment citizens and businesses by either demanding kickbacks or just being lazy, indifferent and incompetent. All this is charged to PASOK and to a lesser degree to New Democracy.

Corruption is the issue

In conclusion, last Sunday the voters obviously pardoned Tsipras’ costly pirouettes around austerity, just because he is not PASOK or New Democracy. The same is true for Kamenos. In any case, New Democracy proved sturdier than PASOK and its appeal seems to have bottomed at 27%. As for PASOK nowadays they seem happy with the 6.3% received last Sunday.

As things stand today the SYRIZA-ANEL government’s main political capital is tightly connected to their promise to address corruption and the clientele political system head on, and reform the public service. If they don’t deliver on these accounts they will soon lose the public support and their Parliamentary majority may be thinned down by protesting or even dissenting deputies.

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