Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ announcement of early elections reveals the impasse at which Greece has arrived. In a move unprecedented in post-war political history, the Prime Minister is so unsure of himself that he is dragging his country to the polls for the third time this year, even though he has already received two very clear consecutive mandates, the first in the January parliamentary elections and the second at the Referendum of July.
In January, the Tspiras administration was elected on a platform promising a great number of things, most of which were forgotten the minute they came to grips with the realities Greece’s precarious relationship with the European Union. By promising things they couldn’t deliver, like salary and pension increases, tax decreases and more, Tsipras’ party gave the opposition legitimate reasons to call him out. More importantly, he signed his own memorandum (after having promised not to) and as a result landed abnormally at the close of the quarter, losing half his political party and his credibility. This loss came at the expense of Greece’s economy and foreign relations due to his mishandling of negotiations. Five months of SYRIZA government drove Greece to default on its IMF payment, hampering the nation’s bargaining position even further. Calls for Greece’s “temporary” exit from the Eurozone soared, while a week prior to the referendum Greek banks remained closed, and capital controls are since in effect, striking a significant blow to the economy.
With July’s referendum came the greatest perversion of electoral results in Greece’s recent political history. Mr. Tsipras spent 28.7 million euros on the referendum, urging the public to vote “no” in order to bring a “better” deal. Overnight he transformed a 60% “no” vote to a “yes” by signing an agreement, which he could have signed under better conditions after February 20th. The new loan agreement Mr. Tsipras agreed to involves more taxes in all sectors, from food to shipping; the cut of benefits for the agricultural sector; an overhaul of the civil justice system in order to cut GDP spending; cuts in pensions; reduction of all limits on seizures to 1,500 euros; and a host of other austerity measures. More importantly, the agreement includes a clause for Greek assets worth $50 billion to be privatized in order to pay off the national debt. A sole positive is that the fund will now be managed by Greeks, instead of the preposterous initial proposal to transfer the assets to an existing external and independent fund in Luxembourg. However, given that Greece does not have much to sell, untenable solutions from every sovereign nation have been proposed, such as selling islands and gold reserves. More recently, several peripheral public airports were in fact sold, to the German company Fraport. According to the 29 MPs that brought the case before the Greek Parliament for questioning, these airports were healthy organizations that could have brought the state $22 billion euros instead of the mere $3.85 billion it will receive from the sale. From their perspective this is a clear case of asset-stripping.
By July 13th,after signing his own memorandum, Mr. Tsipras stumbled into multiple deadlocks. He lost the moral advantage he previously held in the eyes of the public by behaving exactly as “old-cut” politicians did, promising one thing and doing another. People did not desire another memorandum, and this new loan agreement was the final straw. Opposition within Parliament became more vocal, and he lost his parliamentary majority after half of SYRIZA defected; without the support of the opposition parties, whom he shamelessly mocks and refuses to work with, there is no hope for him to pass the measures Greece’s creditors demand through the current Parliament. Now Mr. Tsipras seeks to get circumvent party matters through “express-elections”, asking Greek voters once again to make a decision on matters they do not understand, instead of assuming the responsibility himself as his position dictates.
However, even if Mr. Tsipras’ party receives a majority vote, how does he expect to govern? How would he apply, by himself, the policies that even the Papandreou government (who held a 45% majority in parliament) or the tri-party alliance of Samaras-Venizelos-Kouvelis could not implement? More importantly, with what ministers? His chief motivation appears to be usurping the popular vote once again, while his popularity is still high. This is a play supported by Eurozone leaders, who want of him to follow through with the new memorandum, and the opposition parties as well, who don’t wish to assume the political costs resulting from the devastating effects of six months of SYRIZA politics.
Beyond that, Greece has more serious issues than inter-party politics: the aforementioned results of the outrageous new loan agreement; unemployment; and stagnant economic growth. More recently there is an increasingly complex migration problem, where thousands of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean daily are stuck in a “no man’s land” between borders, in a country that has neither the necessary resources nor the capacity to accommodate them.
What Greece needs is a strong bipartisan government for at least four years, with people willing and able to do the jobs required in to wake Greece from the horrific nightmare that has been its reality for the better part of a decade. The recent political record has shown that no single party can rise to the occasion, no matter what Mr. Tsipras is saying. To paraphrase the popular Plato quote: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Greeks that are still naïve and confused by political smoke and mirrors must remember Plato, and show their inferiors the door.
Eva-Eleni Giannarakou is a graduate student at Seton Hall University and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Diplomacy. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Diplomacy and International Relations, with specializations in Foreign Policy Analysis and Global Negotiations and Conflict Management.