Greek Leftist Leader Gains Support for Standing Firm Against Austerity
Alexis Tsipras says he will not be 'partner in crime' with mainstream leaders
An opinion poll released on Sunday by Greek newspaper To Vima helps to explain why Greece's ascendant leftist party, Syriza and its 38 year old leader, Alexis Tsipras, have remained steadfast in their refusal to accept a coalition government and suggests that their unwavering commitment to an anti-austerity platform is winning them growing support among the Greek electorate.
Despite outsized pressure from the European Central Bank, the IMF, and Europe's economic giant Germany, the poll results show that the anti-austerity stance is gaining, not losing, support among voters -- a trend that's become apparent across Europe in recent weeks.
If a coalition government in Greece cannot be agreed to by Thursday, new elections will take place in June. According to reporting by The Guardian, the survey showed support for Syriza -- which claimed 16.8% of the vote in recent elections -- climbing to 20.5% if new elections were held. Meanwhile, the centrist New Democracy and Pasok parties -- who ushered the IMF/ECB bailout package through parliament earlier this year -- would be projected to win only 18.1% and 12.2%, respectively; their lowest ratings in the nearly 40 years that they have dominated Greek politics.
"Those who for two years have governed us and are responsible for the situation of society and the economy have not only not got the message … they are continuing to blackmail and terrorise," Tsipras said in a statement after talks on Sunday.
"The three parties that have agreed with the goal of implementing the memorandum," he said, referring to the loan agreement, "have the majority. Let them go ahead. The demand that Syriza participate in their agreement is absurd. They are asking us to ignore the popular vote and our pre-elections pledges."
Greek president, Carolos Papoulias, held a meeting Monday as well, but Tsipras refused to attend. “They are looking for an accomplice to continue their catastrophic work — we will not help them,” Syriza spokesman Panos Skourletis told Mega television.
In recent weeks and across Europe, a trend has emerged that shows anti-austerity politicians and political parties winning victory after victory, as those who have supported punishing cuts to public pensions, social programs, and education have seen their fortunes cut short by angry voters at the polls and vibrant protests in the streets. On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative party suffered a crushing defeat in Germany's most populous state, a result which should embolden the left opposition to step up its criticism of her European 'austerity' policies. In France last week, Socialist Francois Hollande defeated pro-austerity President Nicolas Sarkozy. And huge street protests continued in Spain over the weekend, as voters there continue to reject massive cuts to education and health care services.
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In a sign of the shifting European mood on Greece and a growing sense that its exit from the euro is manageable, European officials who once refused to discuss a Greek exit now talk about it openly as a real, if painful, possibility.
But none of this has fazed Tsipras, who has gone from strength to strength on his pro-euro and anti-bailout message to become the unexpected Greek political star of the moment.
The anti-bailout vote that was divided among small parties but has now rallied behind Tsipras, who stands to get a bonus of 50 extra seats in the 300-seat parliament if he wins a repeat election - raising the possibility of an anti-bailout coalition.
Tsipras has consistently refused to join a coalition government with the establishment conservative and socialist parties that ruled Greece for decades, but were punished by voters last week for their role in agreeing the EU rescue, which requires deep cuts in wages and pensions.
That has helped push Greece into its fifth year of recession, which in turn has left one out of five Greeks jobless and ushered in an increasingly volatile social climate.
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With the breakdown in talks it was uncertain whether the president, Carolos Papoulias, would summon the leaders again. The octogenarian head of state was due to meet the leaders of smaller parties, including the neo-fascist Chrysi Avgi, later on Sunday night.
The impasse arose after the mainstream New Democracy and Pasok parties were hammered at the ballot box for supporting the arduous terms of a debt relief deal drawn up by creditors to keep the heavily indebted economy afloat.
Instead, voters opted to support anti-austerity groups whose popularity has soared on the back of anger over cutbacks and reforms enforced in return for up to €240bn (£193bn) in aid. Chief among the winners was Syriza, which saw its ratings soar after promising a wholesale revision of the loan accord that Athens signed with foreign lenders.
On Sunday the new political demographic was on full display. As leaders entered the room for the talks, Tsipras assumed what some commentators described as a commanding position by choosing to sit to the left of the president, alone. Samaras and Venizelos sat opposite, exchanging strained smiles, as the much younger Tsipras bantered in front of the cameras.
The 38-year-old has much to be happy – and immovable – about. An opinion poll published on Sunday, seven days after Greece's electoral earthquake, suggested voters were bent on sending further tremors through the political landscape. The survey, conducted by Kappa Research for To Vima, showed support for Syriza climbing from 16.8% to 20.5%.
New Democracy would be projected to win 18.1% of a new vote, and Pasok 12.2%, their lowest ratings in the nearly 40 years that they have dominated Greek politics.
Emboldened by the ratings, Tsipras threw down the gauntlet, taunting his opponents to go ahead with the formation of a government. After all, he said, three parties – New Democracy, Pasok and the small pro-European Democratic Left – had agreed to form a government that would implement the unpopular policies, and with 168 MPs between them, they had a working majority.
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