Alexis Tsipras is the lead figure of a coalition of left-wing and radical left parties, but if he succeeds in leading Greece with them he will defy a great many critics.
Notably difficult, they point out, is how he will keep his promises after he tears up the memorandum of bailout reform demands listed by Greece’s creditors – because that could cut off the money.
Sure, the 37-year-old’s message has popular appeal, such as: “We say to the Greek people, loudly, so that Europe’s leaders hear, that no one accepts indignity and suicide voluntarily.”
Experts just wonder how Syriza will, as Tsipras puts it, ‘deliver economic, social and political stability’.
After working as a civil engineer in the construction industry, in the wake of the global financial crisis, in 2009 he was elected to the parliament in Athens. He had been a member of the Communist party since his teens, then in the students’ union, and also on the municipal council, meeting political challenges from both the left and the right. Syriza chose him to head its parliamentary group.
In the first legislative election this year, Syriza came second and the President of Greece mandated Tsipras to form a coalition government, after the badly battered conservative election winners’ Antonis Samaras had been unable to.
Where his rivals told Greeks to be realistic and bite the bullet, Tsipras offered hope. His public enjoyed his denunciations of corruption among the political elite, and of administrations’ special interests – on which he blames Greece’s systemic fiscal problems.
Tsipras visited France while presidential election campaigning was going on. Mixing with the radical left in France boosted the underdog image of the vulnerable in Greece. When he made fun of the eventually victorious centre-left François Hollande, his popularity at home did not suffer. But even the left-of-centre German politicians he met insisted that Greece must implement reforms agreed under the bailout.
Yet just days before the second election, he spoke of nationalising banks, public sector hiring, boosting minimum wage and social benefits… all contrary to the austerity policies Greece had accepted with its rescue loans.
Tsipras said: “Syriza guarantees Greece will not continue to be a guinea pig, with the whole burden of a crisis piled on the Greek people – a burden for which they are not responsible.”
He also said that Syriza would end corruption, and democratically raise Greece from the ruins the traditional parties of power had made of it.
So, with the country in its worst recession since World War II, the self-confident Tsipras says he will lead the Syriza alliance of ex-communists, greens and socialists to a new order, shredding the bailout deal yet keeping Greece in the euro.