A hard-right turn for Greece's radical left?Comments
The video on this article is a visual recap of Syriza’s year in power. It is purposefully left without sound.
It was exactly one year ago when SYRIZA turned the tides of Greek politics and became the first ever radical left-wing party to win a national election in Greek political history since 1833, when the modern Greek state came into existence. Moreover, the “Coalition of the radical left” (SY.RIZ.A is its acronym) did it again only nine months later in September 2015 and won a second national ballot (albeit without an absolute majority on both occasions).
Between these two national elections SYRIZA, under the leadership of 39-year-old Alexis Tsipras, also won a controversial national referendum, although its outcome was never adopted and was even annulled before the official result was published.
Impressively enough, SYRIZA won its second national election only weeks after several dozens of its lawmakers and cadres left the party after denouncing Tsipras’ “capitulation” to the country’s international lenders. It also won in spite of having to share its executive power with the ultra-conservative populist party of the Independent Greeks, rather than with more ideologically compatible groups like the social liberal “River Party”, the social democratic “PASOK”, or even the Communists.
What preceded the second SYRIZA victory, however, was a series of dramatic events that started with the European Central Bank’s decision to impose capital controls on the country’s financial institutions following six months of “cat and mouse” negotiations between the bombastic Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, and Greece’s ever-demanding creditors spearheaded by Germany’s Economy minister Wolfgang Schauble and the Dutch head of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
The key incident that led to the imposition of the harsh monetary restrictions was Tsipras’ decision to call a snap referendum on July 5, inviting Greek voters to choose between the creditors’ proposals and the proposal of the Greek government over the country’s debt bailout.
Eventually two-thirds of those who voted gave SYRIZA yet another sweeping victory, not against the lenders but rather over its arch-rival conservative New Democracy and the rest of the political forces who professed that the actual question of the referendum was a “yes” or a “no” to the continuation of the country’s membership in the European Union itself. The result of the plebiscite sent shivers down the spine of Greece’s pro-EU parties and in particular to the right-of-center New Democracy, as it effectively initiated a major leadership crisis that was to break out in full a few months later as a result of the party’s second general election defeat by SYRIZA.
Things suddenly took a different course and to the astonishment of those who were preparing for the final showdown with the creditors, the outcome of the referendum was followed by a series of dramatic political U-turns. The first sign of the impending change of course came just hours after poll results were announced, with the dismissal of the boisterous Varoufakis and his replacement with Euclid Tsakalotos, a moderate by comparison to his outspoken predecessor.
Tsipras’ political somersaults didn’t end there. One week later in Brussels and after 17 hours of arduous negotiations with German chancellor Merkel, French president Hollande, EU heads Junker and Tusk and IMF boss Lagarde, the Greek premier emerged with a deal that caused havoc back in Athens, with opposition parties and SYRIZA’s ultra-left flank alike denouncing it as “the cruelest bailout agreement stipulated between a Greek government and the country’s creditors since the debt crisis began in 2010”.
To the astonishment of Tsipras’ critics however, the deal was welcomed with a sigh of relief by most crisis-stricken Greeks as they were relieved to see the spectre of a “Grexit” from the Eurozone fade away, at least for the time being.
Moreover, the young premier’s manoeuvres cancelled an apparent plan by SYRIZA’s militant left to abolish the Euro, leave the Eurozone and return to the Drachma.
Myth or reality, numerous press reports since have suggested the existence of a blueprint for a dawn raid at the National Mint in Athens and the seizing of all Euro banknote reserves that were kept there, before all domestic economic transactions were switched to the old currency.
THIRDTIME A WINNER
The sense of a temporary return to stability that Greeks felt was reinforced on September 20, 2015 when Tsipras and SYRIZA returned to office having scored yet another big victory, although they once again failed to reach an absolute majority. But much to their delight, the ultra-left SYRIZA “renegades” failed to make it into parliament as their newly established “Popular Union” didn’t reach the minimum legal requirement of 3% of the national vote.
Once again, however, SYRIZA couldn’t rule alone. Despite complaints from as far as Brussels and as high as EP president Schulz, Tsipras renewed his “unholy” alliance with the reactionary Independent Greeks, that provided him this time with a slim majority of three, in the 300-strong Greek parliament.
With its mandate renewed, the SYRIZA-led government set about implementing the latest bailout deal with the country’s creditors. It was a deal that amongst other reforms, anticipated serious cuts in pensions, increased taxation and a fully revised social security system.
To the surprise of no-one, such unpopular measures caused great dissatisfaction to the people and demonstrations have become part of the daily routine in the Greek capital in the last couple of months.
To add to Tsipras concerns, his ultra-conservative allies in parliament appear unwilling to support any social reforms that might “sweeten the pill” for the more liberal- progressive part of the electorate. A very recent example is the Independent Greeks’ refusal to support a bill that recognized civic rights to same sex couples. The motion finally passed through parliament thanks to the votes of the liberals, the socialists and even some conservative lawmakers including the new leader of main opposition New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Forty-seven-year old Mitsotakis is no novice to Greek politics. The son of a former prime minister, a Harvard University graduate and former minister responsible for the reform of public administration, he was elected leader of the country’s main conservative party by defeating three rival candidates. But his victory meant more than a symbolic change at the helm of New Democracy, as Mr. Mitsotakis’ election signaled an ideological turnaround towards the centre instead of the right, the direction his predecessors had favoured.
After less than two weeks as leader of the main opposition party, Mitsotakis has already topped Tsipras at the opinion polls, while SYRIZA is also trailing behind New Democracy.
This has been causing more headaches for the ruling party strategists who now see the political tide beginning to turn against them. To add to their dismay, the recent protests against government policies are being spearheaded by occupational groups who until recently were the main supporters of SYRIZA; civil servants, local authority employees, industrial workers, farmers and pensioners of all sorts are apparently beginning to turn their backs on the party of the radical left, following the implementation of the provisions of the last bailout agreement with the country’s creditors.
After a year of successive victories in two general elections and a referendum, the odds now seem to be turning against Tsipras and his party. But as both have previously proven too hard to break, it is very likely that the second year of SYRIZA in power will be more thrilling than the first.