Tsipras’s Greek Election Gamble After Syriza Split: Explainer

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras quit and called for early elections, saying the Greek people “need to have their say” after his government took on a financial lifeline he once disavowed. He made the announcement late on Thursday, the day Greece received the initial 13 billion-euro ($14.6 billion) injection of funds from the country’s third bailout. The most likely date for the elections is Sept. 20.

*Why now?

Speculation has swirled in Greece over the timing of elections since Tsipras had to rely on opposition votes to pass the bailout bill on Aug. 14 after suffering multiple defections from his Syriza party. Faced with an irreconcilable split in Syriza, Tsipras’s position was close to untenable without a fresh mandate.

*What’s the reasoning?

By opting for a quick election, Tsipras can cash in on his still-high personal popularity ratings before voters are hit by the full impact of the additional austerity measures that are a condition of the international aid. A shorter lead-up to the vote will also mean political opponents within his party and elsewhere have less time to organize and muster support.

*Did internal dissent spark this, and how bad is it?

Yes. It’s bad. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the former energy minister and leader of the “Left Platform” faction in Syriza, is forming a new movement aimed at overturning the bailout. Called “Popular Unity,” it has already attracted suficient support among lawmakers to make it the third-biggest force in the current 300-member parliament after Syriza and New Democracy.

*What happens next?

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos has invited New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis to try to form a government, part of the constitutional procedure set in motion by Tsipras’s resignation. If Meimarakis fails to forge a coalition within three days, the onus falls to the new Popular Unity rebel group to give it a shot. If, as is probable, neither succeeds, the path is open to national elections. Greek media have meanwhile speculated that Vassiliki Thanou, president of the Supreme Court, is the most likely choice to be appointed caretaker prime minister. If so, she would become Greece’s first female premier.

*What will the election campaign look like?

Syriza’s campaign will probably argue that the reduced primary-surplus targets in the current bailout represent success in winning an easing of austerity. Tsipras can also play up the prospect of debt relief in the fall. Like other Greek prime ministers before him, he will probably stress national responsibility and argue that the measures contained in the bailout, while painful, were necessary to keep the country in the euro area.

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