Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras confronted rebels within his own party for not backing his deal with creditors, in a showdown that could put Europe’s most indebted state on course for snap elections.
Speaking to a central committee meeting of the Syriza governing party, Tsipras challenged dissenters to hold a party ballot on Sunday if they reject his decisions. He also called for an emergency congress in September to gauge his support. The committee will decide on the initiatives after about a quarter of the party’s lawmakers rejected Tsipras’s move to seek a new bailout.
The premier dared those who wanted another leader to say so, adding that he wasn’t going to be the one to lead Greece to “catastrophe.” A formal party split would strip Tsipras’s coalition of its parliamentary majority and could force him to hold elections. Two officials have said an election could take place directly after Syriza’s congress.
“Whoever thinks another government and another prime minister would do better should speak up,” Tsipras, 41, said.
The so-called Left Platform of Syriza, led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, accuses Tsipras of violating the mandate voters gave him in January and in a July 5 referendum that saw Greeks oppose more austerity measures. Lafazanis was replaced as energy minister after leading a revolt against the new agreement for as much as 86 billion euros ($94 billion) attached to belt-tightening conditions.
The dissent has forced Tsipras to rely on opposition support to pass policies demanded by creditors.
“After abandoning earlier vows of unity, both sides appear to be preparing for a showdown today that could even split the party,” Paris Mantzavras and George Grigoriou, analysts at Athens-based Pantelakis Securities SA, wrote in a note to clients Thursday.
Eurasia Group analyst Mujtaba Rahman said a “formal split within Syriza is only a matter of time.”
Left Platform dissenters, publishing their views on Iskra, a website named after a newspaper managed by Russian revolution leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, have called on Tsipras to annul a July 12 agreement with creditors, and lead the country out of the euro area. Other prominent Syriza lawmakers, including Parliament Speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou, have joined them in voting against the deal in two votes.
Konstantopoulou said earlier this month that the measures creditors, led by Germany, are asking Greece to implement constitute “a crime against humanity” and “social genocide.”
Tsipras fought back on Wednesday, telling Sto Kokkino radio that the alternative to July’s agreement would be the collapse of Greece’s financial system.
“If I did what my heart was telling me to do, get up and leave, the very same day the branches of Greek banks abroad would fall,” Tsipras said. “Within 48 hours,” Tsipras added, the European Central Bank would pull the plug of emergency loans from Greek lenders, “which would mean, at first, the collapse of Eurobank, then possibly the National Bank of Greece, and, maybe, along the way -- the rest of the banks.”
The International Monetary Fund on Thursday reiterated its support for one of Tsipras’s central arguments, that Greece needs debt relief in order to stabilize its public finances. IMF executives won’t support disbursing more aid to Greece without an explicit, concrete commitment from the euro area to ease the country’s debt burden, a fund official told reporters.
According to Eurasia’s Rahman, Greece’s political situation remains highly fluid.
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This is largely due “to the improvising nature of the Syriza administration, the opaqueness surrounding its objectives and strategy, and the fact none of the government’s official pronouncements can be taken at face value,” the analyst said.