Home >News >World >Alexis Tsipras puts his austerity agenda to the test, calls for elections

New Delhi: Seven months after he was elected on a promise to overturn austerity, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced that he is stepping down to pave the way for snap elections next month. As the debt-crippled country received the first tranche of a punishing new €86bn (£61 billion) bailout, Tsipras said on Thursday he felt “a moral obligation to place this deal in front of the people, to allow them to judge … both what I have achieved, and my mistakes".

The 41-year-old Greek leader is still popular with voters for having at least tried to stand up to the country’s creditors, and his leftwing Syriza party is likely to be returned to power in the imminent general election, which government officials told Greek media was most likely to take place on 20 September.

The decision came on the same day that the European stability mechanism, the European Union’s rescue fund, approved a €13 billion ($14.6 billion) tranche of initial aid from Greece’s new €86bn bailout package, enough to meet its current obligations to international creditors. It was not immediately clear whether the timing of another transfer of €10 billion to help recapitalise Greece’s struggling banks would be affected by the election.

The rescue package was approved after it was backed by the three pro-European opposition parties, but the large number of defections has left the Syriza government vulnerable, especially since New Democracy, the centre-right main opposition party, made clear that Tsipras could not rely on their future support, according to a report in the Economist.

But most of the new aid package will be used to repay existing debt rather than to rebuild the shattered Greek economy, leading to criticism that eurozone creditors are repeating the same austerity policies that delivered six years in a row of recession in Greece. To qualify for the aid, Greece had to agree to maintain strict discipline while carrying out a long list of changes intended to improve the functioning of its economy.

Faced with a near collapse of the Greek financial system, which threatened the country’s future in the euro, Tsipras was forced to accept the creditors’ demands for yet more austerity and economic reform, the very policies he had promised to scrap when he was elected in January. “I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections," he told the Greek people. “I feel the deep ethical and political responsibility to put to your judgment all I have done, successes and failures."

However, when he announced that he will resign and call snap elections for September 20, Tsipras wagered that voters would stay behind him regardless of the fact that he has failed to keep most of his core campaign pledges. And he is probably right. At the end of July—after he had abandoned hopes of shielding the Greek welfare state from further cuts and austerity measures—Tsipras’ approval rating was still at a comfortable 60% in all the major polls, according to an AP report. Even now he is comfortably ahead of any other political leader in the country, and his move on Thursday to call elections is intended to lock in that support.

Rather than engaging his internal opposition, the Prime Minister has chosen to try and outflank them by calling a snap election, which he hopes will bestow him with a new mandate. That is probably a smart move, and it will also give the Greek public an opportunity to register their feelings, once again, about the bailout package and its attendant continuation of austerity policies. When last consulted, in the “Oxi" referendum, on 5 July, the voters overwhelmingly rejected the bailout terms being demanded by the EU and the International Monetary Fund. The upcoming election will effectively be a referendum on Tsipras’s decision to accept more austerity and more international supervision of Greece’s economy. “The political landscape must clear up," energy minister Panos Skourletis, an ally of Tsipras, said on Thursday. “We need to know whether the government has or does not have a majority."

Athens may have lost the war but among the Greek electorate there are many who believe it has won a moral victory over its eurozone partners. Tsipras, the logic goes, is the only man who can truly transform Greece. The application of neo-liberal policies on a resistant populace can only come from the left, a left untainted by corruption and other maladies that have held the nation back. With a new mandate, after fresh polls, the one-time Marxist would not only be able to reinvent himself as a progressive moderate, but as the politician who had saved Greece from itself and eschewed euro ejection. By triggering an election so soon, many believe he will be able to outmanoeuvre his internal foes in Syriza before an impoverished population feel the impact of further tax increases and other bailout measures.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!

Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout