Alexis Tsipras and the curious case of time travel

On Sunday, Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister and leader of the left-wing SYRIZA party, managed to achieve the inconceivable: time travel! After seven months in government, capital controls, a referendum, a failed negotiation with international creditors and a new memorandum, Alexis Tsipras’ party not only managed to get elected with a significant difference over its main rival, the centre-right New Democracy party, but will maintain a coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), his former conservative coalition partner, just like on 25 January 2015. The balance of power may appear to have remained the same, however, does this mean that nothing has changed for Mr. Tsipras (and for us) in seven months?

die hard

What hasn’t changed – the overall political landscape:

  1. Yesterday’s win can only be credited to Mr. Tsipras. The lack of concrete proposals on a series of critical reforms, did not put SYRIZA in pole position, however it was Tsipras’ charisma that managed to unite voters and convince them to give him, and not necessarily his party, a second chance. This new type of “cult of personality” is something to look out for in other European elections, such as Poland and Spain. Voters may turn to leaders such as Pablo Inglesias from Podemos to incarnate “a new vision” even if their parties do not put forward extremely innovative ideas.
  2. Greeks don’t see their future outside the Eurozone, though hard times lie ahead. This is the reason why Popular Unity, a SYRIZA offshoot, which suggested an alternative to the euro, did not manage to score above the 3 per cent benchmark in order to enter the Parliament. The demise of anti-euro parties will put pressure on Mr. Tsipras to manage to maintain SYRIZA’s anti-systemic and anti-austerity rhetoric while conforming to his creditors’ requests. In the coming months, he will have to manage citizens’ disenchantment with the harsh measures prescribed in the new memorandum while going ahead and implementing measures he has actively disagreed with. The end of October will be particularly critical, as the first reform appraisal will take place. Greece is already behind on deadlines for passing reforms and some of the most contentious dossiers, such as the increase in VAT in islands, social security reform and the recapitalization of banks, have not taken place. Indeed, this will be the government’s big stress test both internally, with citizens and its coalition partners, and with its creditors.

election results

What has changed – peoples’ belief in politics:

  1. Greeks have become increasingly disenchanted over the very short electoral cycles Tsipras’ party may have won 35.5 per cent of votes, however, that result must be put into perspective. Only 43 per cent of Greeks went to vote in yesterday’s elections; that is a notable decrease from 64 per cent participation in the January 2015 elections. Through abstention, Greeks not only demonstrated their disagreement over the government’s decision to call for a general election for the second time in seven months but also their disbelief that elections would change Greece’s current situation. Going forward, low turnout may put pressure on Mr. Tsipras to work very hard to maintain stability in his Coalition, as Greeks indicated they are not in for another election in six months. However, similarly to Andreas Papandreou’s rise in the 1980s, Mr. Tsipras is also likely to ride the “charisma versus apathy” wave, making him a potential “long-term leader” in Greek politics for the next years.
  2. SYRIZA’s “mainstreaming” opens a debate on the future of social-democratic parties in Europe. SYRIZA’s divide from Populist Unity managed to mainstream the party, yet maintaining an anti-systemic rhetoric; that enabled SYRIZA to gain more influence in the space traditionally covered by parties that identified themselves as social-democratic. However, even if he manages to unite the left, in a similar fashion to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party in the UK, a significant number of moderate social-democrats remain unrepresented. Will they shift their support to centre-right parties, themselves often indulging into populism to gain votes from its conservative factions, or will new powers emerge? This remains to be seen.

What’s on for Europe?

  1. Tsipras’ win may also impact the debate on the reform of the Eurozone. Over the past months, there have been increased discussions on the strengthening and development of mechanisms that would enable the Eurozone to get back on track for economic recovery and to prevent another crisis in the future. However, wouldn’t that reform be automatically put on the backburner, if more parties with anti-austerity rhetoric get elected in Europe? With one Member State being led by a party lacking credibility by its peers to deliver the necessary reforms in his country, the needed reforms on an Economic and Monetary Union scale seem to be wishful thinking at this point.

On Sunday, Mr. Tsipras proclaimed that “SYRIZA was die hard.” Excitement aside, both Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Kammenos, ought to move on fast from triumphant “die hard” to realistic “work hard”. If they don’t deliver on the reforms Greece may find itself in a difficult situation vis-à-vis its creditors and back into political turmoil with a new round of elections in the coming six months. In the words of John McClane, “Welcome to the party, pal!”

Ilektra Tsakalidou, with help from Claire Bravard and Martin Bresson


September 22, 2015 | 5:25 PM

Alexis Tsipras and the curious case of time travel:

September 22, 2015 | 3:47 PM

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