Government reshuffle inevitable but Tsipras seems in no rush

There is fear of creating a schism within Greece’s ruling party

Alexis Tsipras did not order the summary expulsions of rebel MPs in the immediate aftermath of the vote. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Alexis Tsipras did not order the summary expulsions of rebel MPs in the immediate aftermath of the vote. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

 

It was a classic Pyrrhic victory: a prime minister elected on an anti-austerity platform leading three-quarters of his MPs to vote for a memorandum that he himself said he doesn’t believe in and, in the process, losing his coalition government’s parliamentary majority.

Apart from the sight of Syriza MPs voting – under duress many of them would say – to sign up to a third austerity memorandum, among the many things that made Wednesday night’s vote in the Greek parliament on adopting the laws necessary for the bailout package different from others in the past five years was the absence of any immediate political repercussions for the quarter of Syriza MPs who dissented.

Out of 149 MPs elected with prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party in January, 32 voted against their government, six abstained and another MP absented herself from the vote, which took place after a tense, late-night sitting of the parliament in Athens.

Unlike his predecessors George Papandreou of Pasok or Antonis Samaras of New Democracy, Tsipras did not order the summary expulsions of rebel MPs in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Nor has he sacked any ministers, yet. Among the dissenters were three cabinet members, a fourth minister who resigned on Monday, the parliamentary speaker, Zoi Konstantopoulou, and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Flurry of meetings

There is even some speculation that the reshuffle may wait until another batch of measures tied to the planned three-year, €86 billion bailout comes to a vote in parliament on July 22nd.

“Syriza is such an idiosyncratic party that many of the people within it see nothing strange about MPs who have voted in diametrically opposite directions still being part of the same organisation, sitting side-by-side in parliament,” says Nick Malkoutzis, of political analysis website Macropolis.gr.

“There is also a fear of creating a schism within the party and that if there’s a round of bloodletting now, it will be really damaging for the prospects for Syriza in the months to come. Tsipras wants to transform the party as gradually as he can.”

Mainstream parties

As there is little appetite among the opposition for fresh elections, they are unlikely to force them. That decision may be Tsipras’s. After the vote, one of his closest ministers, interior minister Nikos Voutsis, gave a strong indication that the country could go to early polls after the summer.

“If it is not September, it will be October,” he told Syriza-aligned radio station Sto Kokkino. “Elections are very likely, but this will depend on broader developments, not just from the government.”

Beyond the legislature and the parliamentary party, where the majority of MPs followed the party line that the necessity of keeping the left-led government in power overrode any concerns about the memorandum, Tsipras will also have to take stock of the internal situation within Syriza at large, where there is considerable consternation over the government’s spectacular U-turn.

Condemning the proposed memorandum as the result of a “coup conducted in Brussels”, just over half of the members of the 201-strong central committee have called for that body to be convened immediately.