Indomitable Alexis Tsipras returns with stronger mandate
He faces into immediate, daunting challenges on economy and toll from refugees landing on Greek shores
In persuading Greek voters once again to accept the unpalatable medecine of austerity and cutbacks to secure its €86 billion bailout, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has managed a formidable political u-turn that would have seen almost any other politician decisively ushered from the stage. But Tsipras defies the conventional rules of politics, and the polls. His comfortable re-election on Sunday – Syriza claimed 35.5 per cent of the vote to secure 145 of 300 seats – was a vindication once again of a strategy based on securing and resecuring popular mandates that allows fellow countrymen to feel they remain masters of their fate, however much they resent the direction he is taking them. Sunday’s ballot was the third national vote this year, including the referendum.
For Greek voters the choice this time was not between Tsipras and the true keepers of the anti-austerity flame on the hard left, the rebels of Popular Unity. They it was who precipitated his need to call an election by breaking ranks in Syriza and opposing the bailout deal, and whose new party failed even to see a single member re-elected to parliament. Like a rerun of the last election, the poll was once again in reality a choice for voters between the old Greece of conservative New Democracy and social democratic Pasok, and the new anti-establishment, anti-corruption politics of Tsipras.
“The mandate that the Greek people gave us is crystal clear ,” He told cheering supporters after the elction win, “to get rid of the wickedness and the regime of corruption and intertwined interests that have ruled the country for years,” He will govern in coalition with his former partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks, who secured ten seats.
But the challenges are as daunting as ever. Tsipras’s immediate priorities will see him once again launching an appeal to EU partners for debt relief and persuading them that enough agreed steps have been made to ensure the next bailout payment due next month. He will be involved in a desperate recapitalisation of the country’s banks, have to implement tax increases, pension and spending cuts, and market reforms mandated by creditors, and will clash as early as tomorrow with fellow EU leaders about the union’s failure collectively to tackle the migration crisis.
Of the record 430,000 refugees and migrants who have made the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, 309,000 have arrived via Greece, according to the International Organisation for Migration. “When the Mediterranean turns into a watery grave, and the Aegean Sea is washing dead children up on its shores, the very concept of a united Europe is in crisis, as is European culture,” Tsipras told a campaign rally last week. He is right. The existential challenge to Europe is more critical than anything even the Greek crisis threw at it.