Greek Election Campaign Starts With Tsipras in Narrow Lead

  • Polls show Syriza leader won't get majority in September vote
  • Tsipras says euro exit would mean `mass suicide' for Greeks

Greece’s election campaign formally began with polls showing Alexis Tsipras’s lead over opposition parties may not be large enough for the former prime minister to avoid thorny coalition negotiations.

Tsipras’s Syriza party would get 24.6 percent of the vote if elections were held now, with a 1.8 percentage-point lead over main opposition party New Democracy, according to an MRB survey for the Agora newspaper. A poll for Alpha TV gave Syriza a lead of 2.1 percentage points, while a University of Macedonia survey for Skai TV had Syriza ahead by 3 percentage points over New Democracy, led by Evangelos Meimarakis.

As a vote-weary public returns to the ballots, these polls suggest that the 41-year-old leader won’t secure enough votes for an absolute majority. During his eight months in office, Greece was on the cusp of leaving the euro. The prospect of messy coalition talks would further complicate the implementation of conditions set out for the third bailout to stave off the crisis.

‘Corruption, Kleptocracy’

The opposition parties Syriza may have to work with after the vote represent “the old political system, vested interests, corruption, clientelism and kleptocracy,” Tsipras told his party members on Saturday. The leaders of New Democracy, Pasok and the River-- the three parties that backed his agreement with euro-area member states last month when his own lawmakers staged a mutiny -- are responsible for Greece’s “national tragedy,” he said.

“The risk is that if Syriza doesn’t get an absolute majority in parliament, that if the allies it wants don’t make it to parliament, then we’ll go to new elections again in November and December,” River party leader Stavros Theodorakis, whose party backed the rescue deal with creditors, said in an interview on Thursday. “We’ll become a country which will hold elections every three to six months.”

Splinter Group

Tsipras stepped down on Aug. 20 just after relying on opposition votes to gain parliamentary backing of the country’s third bailout. His resignation was a bid to recoup a majority with snap elections as his party fell in disarray and dissidents formed a splinter group, led by former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. In his speech in Athens on Saturday, Tsipras said his choice to opt for a compromise with creditors in the face of internal opposition within his own party was necessary to avert the “national disaster” of expulsion from the euro. An exit from the currency bloc would be equivalent to “mass suicide” for Greeks, Tsipras added.

Syriza has a 1 percentage point lead with 22.2 percent in a Metron Analysis poll for Parapolitika newspaper, while a ProRata survey published by Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper put Syriza ahead by 3.5 percentage points. Syriza’s junior coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, doesn’t currently meet the threshold to enter parliament, most polls show. 

Greece is now under a caretaker administration led by Supreme Court President Vassiliki Thanou with elections scheduled for Sept. 20. It will be the third time Greeks go to the polls this year after an election in January and a referendum in July on whether to accept more belt-tightening. Thanou is the sixth prime minister to assume office since the debt crisis began. George Chouliarakis was appointed interim finance minister, the ninth since 2010.

Urgency Needed

For more, read this QuickTake: Greece's Fiscal Odyssey

Chouliarakis, a lecturer at the University of Manchester, succeeds Euclid Tsakalotos as Europe’s most-indebted state races to implement a set of prior actions required by creditors for the release of additional bailout loans, including the recapitalization of the country’s banks. “We need to complete the bank recap as soon as possible,” Chouliarakis said Friday.

In an interview with Alpha TV on Wednesday, Tsipras ruled out leading a coalition with the pro-European parties -- New Democracy, the River and center-left Pasok -- that supported the bailout agreement. He left the door open to a possible unity government run by someone else. In his Saturday speech to Syriza members, he asked the Greek people to give him a “strong mandate” in next month’s ballot.

If the result of the election necessitates a coalition which will include Syriza, then the River, which had 17 lawmakers in the previous parliament, is ready to discuss such a scenario, Theodorakis said.

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