Greek Election Surprise Rejects ‘Barbarism’ of Bailout Austerity

Syriza Party Leader Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras, head of the Syriza party. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Alexis Tsipras became the surprise package of the Greek election by telling Angela Merkel to get lost.

“The people of Europe can no longer be reconciled with the bailouts of barbarism,” Tsipras, 37, said on state-run NET TV late yesterday after his Syriza party unexpectedly came second in the country’s election. “European leaders, and especially Ms. Merkel, should realize that her policies have undergone a crushing defeat.”

Tsipras’s calls to tax the rich, delay debt repayments and cut defense spending struck a chord with voters angry at austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in return for bailouts. As far as euro membership is concerned, Tsipras told voters that a Greek exit would put the currency itself in jeopardy and they shouldn’t feel “blackmailed” into more austerity.

The result put Syriza ahead of the Socialist Pasok party, potentially derailing efforts to implement the terms of the country’s financial lifeline. Syriza, which means Coalition of the Radical Left, won 16 percent of the vote, projections showed. That exceeded the 13 percent won by Pasok, one of the two pillars of the political establishment since 1974. New Democracy, led by Antonis Samaras, topped the poll with 20 percent.

The result, the best since the party was founded in 2004, puts Tsipras in a position to try and form a government should New Democracy fail to put a coalition together in the first round of talks.

Greek Rivalries

What may stop Tsipras from taking power are the traditional rivalries among the Greek left.

“They have already achieved what they could achieve,” said Wolfango Piccoli, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London. “They have become the second-largest party but nobody will strike a deal with them. They can only make their voice heard more by the Greek public thanks to a larger presence in parliament but not much more than that.”

Before yesterday’s election result, Tsipras had proposed joining forces with the Communist Party of Greece, the oldest parliamentary party in the country, and the Democratic Left, which won 6 percent of the vote, to form a coalition.

Both parties have rejected the overture, with Communist Party chief Aleka Papariga repeating her refusal last night.

Tsipras suggested such a combination would be able to draw some informal support from other anti-bailout parties, such as the Independent Greeks, led by former New Democracy lawmaker Panos Kammenos, which yesterday scored 10 percent.


“If we as the left, despite the differences, submit our proposal and get five votes of support or tolerance from Kammenos we won’t reject them,” Tsipras said in an interview on April 25. “We must stop the bailout memorandum,” he said.

Syriza garnered 4.6 percent of the vote in Greece’s last elections in 2009 and 13 seats. Polls during the election put their support between 7 percent and 13 percent.

Greek voters flocked to anti-bailout parties, official results showed yesterday, as the country balks at an unemployment rate of almost 22 percent. That’s throwing doubt on whether, New Democracy and Pasok, can form a coalition to implement spending cuts to ensure the flow of bailout funds.

Pasok party leader Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister who negotiated the second rescue packages, said the electorate had provided no clear mandate and called on a pro-European national unity government to be formed.

Austerity Rejection

The election was the first since the country helped trigger the European debt crisis and comes as voters across the region turn their backs on austerity measures backed by Merkel. In France, Francois Hollande defeated President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday and in Germany Merkel’s party suffered its worst result in more than a half a century in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Bowing to German austerity, Greece agreed to impose pension and wage cuts in return for two international rescues worth 240 billion euros ($312 billion). Greece must continue spending cuts to keep disbursements flowing. Failure to do that may determine whether the country has a future in the euro area.

For Tsipras, a civil engineer by training, the question of Greece’s continuing membership of the euro is overstated because its exit could mean an end to the currency itself.

“The crisis isn’t just Greek, it’s European,” he said on April 22. “There will either be a collective, sustainable and fair European solution to the public debt issue or it will collectively fall apart. The Greek people should understand that this blackmail is false and they must stop blackmailing them with a supposed exit of just Greece without the destruction of the euro.”

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