Monday 23 October 2017

After the party comes the hangover, so just how long can the new government survive?

Tsipras supporters celebrate.
Tsipras supporters celebrate.

Peter Foster

They danced in the streets of Athens to celebrate the re-election of Alexis Tsipras, but within hours, shrewd judges of Greece's turbulent politics were voicing misgivings about the result.

Stathis Kalyvas, the Yale political scientist, pointed out the "striking paradox" of this result: that the Greeks elected the same coalition as in January, but to enact completely opposite policies.

In January, Mr Tsipras and his hard-left Syriza party came to power in a coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks vowing to force Brussels to buckle under, but they lost that argument spectacularly.

Now they must enact an absolutely eye-watering package of structural economic reforms under the EU's €86bn reform package, and it is far from clear that there will be the political will to carry through those reforms.

"This contradiction cannot stand and will soon have to be resolved," wrote Professor Kalyvas.

"Either the government will implement these policies and thus transform itself into a centre-left party, or it will fail and therefore fall from power sooner rather than later."

It is important not to underestimate the scale of what is being demanded of Greece - much of which was glossed over during the election campaign, with lots of woolly rhetoric from Mr Tsipras about continuing the 'Left struggle'.

If Greece wants access to the next tranche of bailout money, to recapitalise its banks on favourable terms and turn the key on possible debt relief, then the creditors have made it clear that it's Mr Tsipras' government that must buckle under.

That means introducing measures that will cut some €3.5bn of expenditure by 2018 and passing measures on tax and pensions that will change the system beyond recognition.

Can the centre hold? This victory was undoubtedly a personal triumph for Mr Tsipras, but over the coming months it will become clear how much he is prepared to disappoint the voters and how far his wafer-thin majority will enable him to go.

There is a school of thought in Brussels that it was better to see Mr Tsipras re-elected and forced to implement the bailout he signed under duress in July, but on the other hand the man charged with implementing the deal has said his heart is not in it.

For analysts like Mujtaba Rahman, the head of practice at risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group, this was a bad result.

"Given how challenging the bailout agenda is, a return of the previous coalition isn't great news. It was spectacularly incompetent last time. Tonight's result will worry creditors," he told me.

"There is no space for any renegotiation or concessions from creditors. Out of all of the plausible coalition scenarios, this is by far the worst."

Mr Tsipras described his win as a "victory of the people" that had given him a mandate to continue "the beautiful struggle we started seven months ago".

What that means in practice only the next three months will tell, but with the possibility of further defections from within his own Syriza party as the scale of the crisis becomes clear, recent talk from eurozone officials of a "stable" Greek coalition could well be short-lived.

Irish Independent

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