Why is debt-strapped Greece holding early elections?
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras pushed lenders for better terms, failed, then conceded. Anti-austerity diehards mutinied.
Tsipras resigned to seek a fresh endorsement: “With your vote, you will judge if the agreement has the right conditions to break this impasse, to help revive the economy, and whether this helps us to put an end to memoranda and cruel austerity measures.”
Promising to end austerity was what landed Tsipras the job in January’s elections. His SYRIZA party won a place in history as the first left-wing group ever to lead a government in Greece.
Tsipras boasted: “The verdict of the Greek people ends, beyond any doubt, the vicious circle of austerity in our country.”
They loved the sound of that, but cheering faded as he boomeranged between Athens and Brussels and the creditors didn’t give him what he wanted.
Greece shut the banks as June expired; people were pumping cash out, it had to stop. The government failed to pay back the IMF that month.
‘Can Greece possibly keep the euro now?’ was the burning question.
The question ‘do you accept the austerity conditions of the new bailout deal?’ was put to a referendum on July 5th and almost 62% of Greeks voted ‘no’!
But the country still needed those billions, and so — in what appeared as a gesture to placate those who stubbornly held the purse strings closed — finance minister Yannis Varoufakis resigned.
Within days, the purse opened, the Eurogroup offering Athens a chance to stay in, with an 86 billion euro third rescue package — but with the same strict strings attached that SYRIZA had vowed to untie.
Tsipras signed the deal, parliament had to ratify it. The deal did pass, because the pro-euro opposition voted ‘for’ it, but 43 SYRIZA MPs opposed it or abstained.
Most of these went off with former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who formed the new Popular Unity party, becoming the third-largest in parliament.
His majority sapped, Tsipras had little choice; it might be a long shot but if he wanted to keep power it must be by the ballot box again.
The hardest cuts are due next month — new raised taxes, lowered pensions and a spending roll-back. Tsipras said the program was a choice of “staying alive or suicide”.
If that is honest, it is not much like “ending the vicious circle of austerity”.
Eleni Rizopoulou, euronews Lyon: “Talking to our Athens correspondent, Stamatis Giannisis. Stamatis, what is the latest from the election campaign? What are the polls showing?”
Stamatis Giannisis, euronews Athens: “More than 20 opinion polls taking in the whole country over the last two weeks and covering all the parties have given a fairly clear estimate of the percentage of the votes they are going to get on Sunday.
“The parties, therefore, have focused on attracting as many as possible of the so-called undecided voters — the ones that apparently will determine the final outcome of this election.
“In any case the vast majority of opinion polls are showing the two main contestants — SYRIZA and New Democracy — neck-and-neck, sometimes with less than one percentage point difference between them.
“Analysts are very reluctant to makes forecasts. They can’t be sure if the undecideds will be evenly distributed between the bigger and smaller parties, or will shift towards one of the two main contestants so that one of them might even win an absolute majority.”
euronews Lyon: “What is the mood in Greece? How do the voters see this election, so soon after the last one?
euronews Athens: “This Sunday will be the third time in the past nine months that people go to the ballot boxes.
“The first was in January for the snap general election. That was because the Greek parliament couldn’t agree on electing a new national president.
“The second time was in July, when the Tsipras government called a referendum to approve or reject a draft of the bailout deal proposed by the country’s creditors.
“On Sunday, the Greeks are going back to the polls for yet another snap election, aimed at producing a government or a government coalition that will implement the new bailout agreement that Mr Tsipras got before he resigned.
“It’s easy to understand how tired Greece’s voters are.
“They’re not reluctant to go to vote, although clearly they’re not as eager as they were before the January election or the July referendum, but they feel that whoever the winner of this election is, he will have to implement new austerity rules and reforms that will make everyday life more difficult than it already is.”
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