Thursday 22 March 2018

A No vote would not be the end of problems for Syriza and Tsipras

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday (REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at an anti-austerity rally in Syntagma Square in Athens on Friday (REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)


Whether Greeks decide in today’s referendum to accept their lenders’ bailout deal or reject it, the government’s hold on power may be shakier than its brash prime minister has calculated, analysts say.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is banking on fellow Greeks to deliver a resounding No in the popular vote that he believes will give him strong leverage in his negotiations with creditors to swing a softer bailout deal for a country ravaged by years of harsh austerity, deep recession and crushing poverty.

A win for the No campaign, the reasoning goes, could also furnish Tsipras with an endorsement for his five-month rule and allow his government to consolidate — and extend — its grip on power.

That may not be the case, analysts say, since a No vote could still plunge Tsipras’ position into uncertainty if negotiations drag on with lenders who see such the outcome as a Greek snub of the euro. Without a quick deal, banks could stay shuttered to keep their reserves from running dry.

“A deteriorating import-dependent economy will provoke a rapid decline in public support for the government and fresh elections may become inevitable, but this will take time,” said Dimitri Sotiropoulos, political science professor at the University of Athens.

A win for the Yes campaign could cast Tsipras’ public mandate in doubt and force him to broaden his coalition government, political analyst George Sefertzis said. The new government may have Tsipras’ radical-left Syriza party at its core, but the cabinet’s composition could change to include “respected personalities who can be recruited to fill that role.”

Syriza emerged from the political fringes in January as Greek voters sought an alternative to what they

saw as a bankrupt political establishment they blame for opening the door to

half a decade of punishing salary and pension rollbacks, steep job cuts and hefty taxes.

Just a few years ago, the country’s two main political forces, the right-wing New Democracy and the socialist PASOK parties, commanded some 80pc of the vote between them. Now, with many Greeks seeing them as kowtowing to the lenders’ diktats, their support was dwindled.

Tsipras’ youth, unorthodox style and pledges to fight the good fight for the country’s poorest endeared him to many and persuaded some that he could take on the institutional behemoths that decide the economic fate of entire nations.

But months of talks without real results have eroded the Syriza-led government’s credibility in the eyes of Europe’s power circles.

“This government doesn’t trust the institutions of the EU and the IMF, and those institutions trust the Greek government even less,” said Sotiropoulos.

Tsipras’s gambit appears to rest on whether he can clinch a deal quickly so that banks can re-open and get money flowing to businesses again.

Tsipras told private TV station Antenna last Thursday that he sees a deal with creditors emerging “within 48 hours” after the referendum.

His finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, told RTE radio on Friday that an agreement with creditors “is more or less done” and that European officials had put forward “very decent proposals” this week.

But Greece’s creditors — the European Union and the International Monetary Fund — are unlikely to cave in on demands for tough austerity measures, said Sotiropoulos.

The creditors may offer a vague pledge to consider restructuring Greece’s crushing debt, but that probably won’t happen until the government faithfully implements the terms of the deal for at least 12 to 18 months, said Sotiropoulos.

“A No win would be a Pyrrhic victory for the Greek government. You can’t survive on Pyrrhic victories because you need funds to keep the country running,” he said.

Sefertzis said Tsipras’ political decline may come much faster even with a referendum No in his pocket as he would have little time to get to keep the country from economic collapse.

With an economy in tatters, Tsipras’ hold on power would be a “matter of days rather than weeks,” said Sefertzis.

The latest opinion polls put the No and Yes camps in a dead heat.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News