Alberto Mingardi  

Coming soon. Another Greek election

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Greek Prime Minister Mr Tsipras has resigned, and so Greece is heading off to elections in September. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

Elections offer Mr. Tsipras the chance to expel the rebels from Syriza and return to office as head of a more cohesive party. Greek and European policy officials hope that such an outcome could improve Mr. Tsipras's ability to pass painful retrenchment measures and keep the bailout loans flowing.

We had Greek elections in January. Back then, Mr Tsipras emerged as the new prime minister leading Syriza, a coalition of extreme left wing movements, to electoral victory. Most recently Mr Tsipras called people to the ballot box in July, for a referendum over the deal with the European Union then under discussion. Mr Tsipras eventually signed a bail-out agreement, in spite of the victory of the "no" at the referendum. In a few weeks, he had to face another referendum, this time within his own party.

All in all, it seems Mr Tsipras is far less of an extremist than he looked in January, when he won office. He is calling elections to get rid of his internal opposition and reassert his own leadership. Note that he waited for the German Budenstag to ratify the Greek bailout.

This is however a bold game. Tsipras's Party is credited with around 32/34% of the votes, according to the last opinion polls. This is far from a bad result, given the tenure of Mr Tsipras. But keep in mind that Greece has a proportional-representation electoral system, though "reinforced" with devices that ensure that the party which wins a plurality of votes cast is awarded an extra 50 seats. Even when they won elections in January, Tsipras and his party needed a coalition partner--from the extreme right--to govern. Is Tsipras going to renew that coalition, or will he attempt to establish a new one?

Generally speaking, political instability can hardly be good in this moment for Greece. Many read Tsipras as aiming to secure a stronger, relatively more moderate and reliable coalition to govern. His coup de theatre was generally appreciated by the international press, which seems convinced that Tsipras became a "man to do business with" for the creditors.

But are we sure he is? We won't be necessarily applauding somebody that calls on elections to smash his opposition (though it is a very understandable conduct). Why should it be commendable, in the case of Tsipras? Hasn't the mainstream press accepted his conversion from crackpot communist to "normal" social democrat too quickly? And what about the Greeks? They voted for Tsipras and Syriza in January not to swallow the Troika medicine - should now vote for them to do it?

Also, in the fall we'll have elections in Portugal and Spain, too. Greece will precede them. What kind of scenario can another Tsipras victory help to materialize? Can we imagine a domino effect in these countries shifting to the left? Or, on the contrary, the fragility of Syriza will make the populist left all of the sudden a less attractive option?


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CATEGORIES: Eurozone crisis




COMMENTS (1 to date)
George J. Georganas writes:

I know this is going to sound strange to any non-Greek audience.
At least 45% of the Greek electorate expect to earn their living by selling, at a reasonable price, their vote. How does one come to that figure ? In the elections of May 2012, after it had become clear that the two mainstream parties would no longer have access to borrowed money abroad, so as to dispense the usual clientelist favours, those two parties lost 45 percentage points of the popular vote. Mr Tsipras emerged as a prospect for those desperate people who lack any skills that would enable them to compete in world markets. Their primary concern is survival, not the democratic ideal of voting for the greater good of the whole country or, even, of one's social class interests. Now that Mr Tsipras has agreed a program that will reduce the costs of parasitism, but not eliminate them, they will grudgingly vote for him in the hope that we will be able to tweak the program a little in their favour. Of course, the Greek economy will not take off. Unless some major disaster occurs, Greece will have a slow recovery. Many more Greeks looking to do better will have to emigrate, just as they did during the "golden" years of 1953-1973. The country was able to afford a standard of living far higher than its productive powers could provide by receiving the remittances of its emigrants and sailors who laboured in the world markets. In a sense, the period 2002-2009 was a rerun of that earlier "prosperous" period. Except this time the money that flowed into Greece was not equity but debt.

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