What Next for Greece’s Tsipras as Syriza Rift Widens: Scenarios

Greece’s parliamentary vote on a third bailout last week underlined the split within Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s governing Syriza party, opening the door to new elections as early as next month.

Tsipras needed to rely on opposition party votes to pass the legislation after securing the backing of just 118 lawmakers from his governing coalition in the 300-seat chamber. After the ballot, a Greek government official indicated Tsipras could hold a vote of confidence in his administration as soon as the bailout is signed and the country has paid 3.2 billion euros due to the European Central Bank on Aug. 20.

Defeat would trigger national elections as early as September. While fresh elections may delay implementation of the bailout, they could also deliver Tsipras a strengthened mandate to enact a package that runs counter to the anti-austerity platform Syriza was elected on in January.

Here’s what you need to know about the road ahead:

Q: When will the vote of confidence take place?

The vote must be preceded by a three-day debate in parliament, meaning Aug. 23 is the earliest date it could happen. Beyond that, the government has been tight-lipped about whether it will happen as soon as the bailout is sealed, or whether Tsipras waits longer to formulate a strategy.

Tsipras’s priority remains to finalize the bailout, and only on Thursday will he consult with political allies over his next “political moves,” a government official said in a statement on Sunday. That indicates he’s still undecided whether an early vote of confidence is the best strategy to proceed, according to Dimitris Sotiropoulos, an associate professor of political science at the University of Athens. Tsipras may decide against holding a vote if the government needs to take more actions to secure aid disbursement.

Q: Is the Syriza party about to split?

Friday’s vote saw 44 out of 149 Syriza lawmakers withhold support for the bailout after an acrimonious debate that highlighted the seemingly irreconcilable nature of the split within the party.

A day before the vote, former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis announced the formation of a new movement aimed at overturning the bailout. His successor at the Energy Ministry, Panagiotis Skourletis, said in a Skai TV interview on Monday that the two factions would probably run as different parties in any fresh elections.

Prominent rebels like Stathis Leoutsakos have said they oppose the bailout without explicitly declaring they plan to vote against the government. A September election would make it difficult for them to organize as a new party and it would also make it easier for Tsipras to purge them from the party’s electoral lists, according to Sotiropoulos.

Q: Will the opposition parties back him?

The votes of New Democracy, To Potami and Pasok lawmakers were needed to pass the austerity measures attached to the country’s bailout. Each said their votes can’t be taken for granted to pass more austerity measures, and none seems willing to prop up Tsipras’s hobbled government.

Pasok, the smallest of the three with 13 lawmakers, were first out of the blocks on Sunday to say they won’t back the government in a confidence vote. The others are likely to follow.

Q: So, can Tsipras win the vote?

In order to win the confidence vote, Tsipras needs the backing of at least 120 votes and a majority of lawmakers present.

The first of these conditions is likely, since some Syriza dissidents have indicated they could return to the fold. The second condition could be fulfilled if opposition parties, and opponents within the party, stay away from the vote.

The more important question could be whether Tsipras actually wants to win the vote, and remain stuck with a hobbled coalition. Even if Tsipras prevails with the backing of fewer than 151 lawmakers, he would probably declare that anything short of an absolute majority makes his position untenable, and use this to call elections, according to Aristides Hatzis, professor of law and economics at the University of Athens.

Q: What if he loses the vote of confidence?

If Tsipras loses the vote, or falls short of a 151 majority, he will probably tender his government’s resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who will in turn hand the mandate of forming a government to the other party leaders. If no other party can form a government, he could then ask all parties to explore forming a national unity government and if that fails, new elections will be called. The earliest possible election dates that have been mentioned by local media are Sept. 20 or Sept. 27. Still, if September elections interfere with implementation of bailout measures and the loan disbursement schedule, Tsipras could seek to delay them until October or November, Kathimerini reported on Tuesday.

Q: Will elections strengthen Tsipras’s position?

Tsipras remains popular with Greek voters, 63 percent of whom said he did the right thing in agreeing to the deal with creditors, according to a July 25 poll by Metron Analysis. That poll gave Syriza 33.6 percent support, a 15.8 percentage-point lead over the main opposition New Democracy party.

Still, the implosion of the Syriza party after the passage of the latest bailout may dent support for a Tsipras-led government, according to Nikos Marantzidis, professor of political science at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki. Polls haven’t yet given an indication of how much support a party of anti-bailout Syriza rebels would get, which could determine how strong or weakened Tsipras would emerge from fresh elections.

A Tsipras-led Syriza is still expected to poll first and may even win absolute majority, if a breakaway party garners less than 3 percent of the vote, the required threshold to enter parliament, according to Marantzdis. Tsipras would remain dominant as head of a coalition government, even if the rebels win 5 percent and he would only be significantly weakened if their share rises to 8 percent of the vote or more, he said.

The earlier the election is held, the more support Tsipras can probably hang onto, according to Marantzidis. “Time does not work in his favor during this period,” he said.

Q: How will all of this affect implementation of the country’s bailout, and the first review in October?

Elections in Greece have derailed the country’s bailout programs in the past, and it’s likely that September elections will delay program implementation again as the wheels of public administration grind to a halt.

Yet, an early vote would allow Tsipras to capitalize on his personal popularity before a new set of tax increases comes into effect and begins eroding it and give him a strengthened mandate to implement the bailout. If so, a new Syriza-led government, purged of its anti-bailout lawmakers, could be in place before for the next review begins and before a new round of unpopular austerity measures have to pass in October.

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