Summer of Greek politics is over

Summer of Greek politics is over

It was an exciting one. In July with their country in a deep economic crisis, Greeks were asked by their government to say “no” to the “ultimatums and blackmail of the country’s creditors.” This was a leftist-led Syriza government who had managed to win the vote only six months before by promising to magically end austerity through tough and uncompromising negotiations. But subsequent negotiations collapsed miserably with Greece’s creditors putting PM Alexis Tsipras in the ultimate dilemma of “yes or no” and asking him to choose between an austerity program or a Grexit. 

Tsipras went back to his people last July and asked them “to strengthen his hand in order to renegotiate.” They did that to the maximum extent. In a referendum, whose vague wording and double meaning still puzzle political observers, an overwhelming majority gave Tsipras a strong percentage (almost 62 percent) of “yes,” in order – so most thought – to renegotiate a better deal. But in the political heat of last July, people also thought that with their vote, they had also said “yes” to staying in the eurozone, and at the same time, “yes” to Tsipras staying in power and, also, saying “no” to the conservative opposition. If we are to believe the controversial former Economy Minister Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek prime minister became depressed with the outcome of the referendum. He had wished for a big “no,” claims Varoufakis, now a strong critic of the Tsipras government. 

We will probably never find out whether this claim is true, but there is no controversy on what followed last July’s referendum. The Tsipras team renegotiated with Brussels, but the outcome was a big defeat for the Greek side, who ended up signing up to a third loan accompanied by a tougher austerity package. Yet, another exciting piece of political tactics came from Tsipras: in spite of losing the support of the leftist militants of his party and, subsequently, his government majority in parliament due to the defections, he called a snap election in August. Against all odds, with a new pack of austerity measures to be applied in autumn, but with an official opposition in search of an identity after their crushing defeat in the last elections, Syriza lured enough votes and fell just six seats short of an absolute majority. And he formed a new government with his previous partners, the right-nationalist party of Independent Greeks (Anel).

Last Saturday the new government was sworn in and the newly re-elected and revamped PM told his Syriza deputies that his government must implement the new bailout program as soon as possible. Greece, he said, has to go through the first supervision by its creditors quickly in order to get the first tranche of the 86 billion euros and gain access to international markets and foreign investment. By Nov. 15, a long line of reforms regarding taxation, pensions, public services, healthcare and banking is to be voted on in parliament, with consequences pending for millions of citizens. If not, it will not be possible to recapitalize ailing Greek banks and “capital controls” that have been in force for several months will not be lifted. 

Having spent most of this summer in Athens and having felt first-hand the high political temperature of a tense and uncertain social environment, I often wondered: “What is the appeal of Alexis Tsipras?” I asked a political analyst in Greece to explain to me the “Tsipras phenomenon.” After doing a U-Turn on his political promises from the January elections and presiding over a crumbling economy, he comes out as the winner of the autumn elections eight months later and remains an undisputed “regulator” of the political process in Greece.   

His answer was long, but I am giving you the main point: Tsipras, he said, found himself “in the right moment and at the right place and had a leader’s qualities to express the deep change in the political establishment that took place after the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974, which was triggered by the recent economic crisis.”  

But as of today, the political summer is over. A new Syriza-Anel government is at the helm of a country whose citizens will have to show patience and trust in a government that already failed them once. Will they be patient for the full four years of its term? I have my doubts.