Greece plunged back into crisis as Tsipras quits and calls election
Prime minister tells president it's time to restore political stability
Published 21/08/2015 | 02:30
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned last night, paving the way for a new general election and thrusting the beleaguered country into another period of political instability.
In an address to the nation, Mr Tsipras said he felt he had a "political and ethical responsibility" to allow the electorate to judge his administration's work since being elected only seven month ago, after it failed to live up to his Syriza party's promise to put an end to austerity.
Instead of renegotiating the harsh economic measures imposed by Greece's international creditors, Mr Tsipras ended up agreeing to more tax hikes, the privatisation of much of the public sector and other reforms in exchange for a third massive bailout loan of €86bn - a humiliating climbdown that prompted a rebellion from left-wingers within Syriza.
Following the announcement of the general election, there were unconfirmed reports that the party's left faction could leave and stand on an anti-bailout platform.
The prime minister said in a televised address: "The public mandate we got on January 25 exhausted its limits and now the sovereign people must yet again have its say.
"I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections. Your vote will decide on whether we represented the country with the required decisiveness and courage during the tough negotiations with our creditors.
"Your vote will decide on whether this deal provides the conditions to overcome today's impasse, recover the economy and to get rid of the bailouts and the harshness they entail."
Speaking to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos as he formally handed in his resignation, Mr Tsipras said his government had "fully restored the country's financial stability" by agreeing the new bailout.
"Now is the time to find the way to restore its political stability. Like our constitution stipulates, the way to do so is by resorting to the public's verdict," he said.
Experts said Mr Tsipras was heading to the polls before the brunt of the new austerity measures are felt in Greece and while he still remains popular.
It also leaves the rebel MPs with little time to prepare for the elections, which are likely to take place on 20 September. Last week, 13 MPs announced the formation of an anti-bailout movement.
Mr Tsipras (41) is considered to have a good chance of being re-elected - a poll last month gave him a 60pc approval rating among voters.
Syriza is by far the most popular party, but the fractured nature of Greek politics means it does not have enough support to govern without a coalition partner.
Senior Syriza officials insisted that calling the election was more about coming clean to the Greek people. The parliament's deputy speaker Yannis Balafas said: "We aren't only headed to elections to deal with our internal party problems, it's also to deal with the need for a fresh mandate and also discuss the debt relief."
The Greek constitution stipulates that when a government resigns, the president should ask the second and third- biggest parties - currently the centre-right New Democracy and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn - to try to form a new administration.
The head of New Democracy, Vangelis Meimarakis, said he would try to form a coalition government, though observers thought it unlikely that he would be able to get a majority in the 300-seat parliament.
If he fails, a caretaker government will be appointed to lead the country until the new elections.
Syriza was said to be hopeful that the caretakers could be sworn in as early as Monday or Tuesday.
The European Commission said it "takes note" of the election announcement.
"Broad support for [bailout deal] and sticking to commitments will be key for success," said Annika Breidthardt, a European Commission spokeswoman, in a tweet.
And the Dutch finance minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who led talks on the new bailout for the eurozone countries, said: "It is crucial that Greece maintains its commitments to the eurozone.
"I hope the elections will lead to even more support in the new Greek parliament.
"Hopefully, these elections will take place relatively soon so Greece can take important next steps in October, as foreseen."
The interim prime minister is likely to be Vassiliki Thanou, the president of Greece's supreme court. The 65-year-old will become the country's first female prime minister.
Independent News Service