Greek's Leftist Leader Holds Firm Against Fear-Mongering Ahead of Crucial Elections
'People demand a clear direction," says Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras
Just four days ahead of crucial elections in Greece that could well determine the fate of the Eurozone economy, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the ascendant left Syriza party, continued to hold firm against a wave of fear-mongering from conservative forces and resisted compromise as it related to his party's anti-austerity stance.
"After two consecutive elections, people demand a clear direction," he said during a Tuesday news conference.
Tsipras rejected calls to form a post-election unity government with his rivals or support a watered-down compromise on his party's stance against the current bailout deal. Instead, if elected, he promised to lead a government of the left against the draconian austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
"If we are elected, we will move swiftly to recapitalize banks with common voting shares, what we call socialization of the banking system, put them under public and social control so that Greek depositors feel safe," he said.
"Greece is already crumbling. Hobbled by the excruciating choice between more austerity measures, which have already pushed the country into an economic death spiral, or eurozone exit, the nation is not just desperate but paralyzed."
The bailout agreement — which forced Greece to slash government spending, cut salaries and pensions, raise taxes and pledge to fire tens of thousands of public workers— will be replaced with a "national reconstruction program," Tsipras said.
Europe has said they will not renegotiate the bailout deal, but Tsipras contends that Europe cannot afford to let Greece slip away from the Eurozone.
"If one of the 17 countries is brought to collapse ... the fire will become unquenchable and will not be limited to Greece and the southern countries ... it will break up the eurozone and that will not be in anybody's interests," he said.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of the conservative New Democracy party -- which supports the bailout package and is the Syriza's main electoral rival for parliament -- has called Syriza's position "dangerous" and "irresponsible" which puts him in the company of the European financial elite who have ratcheted up pressure ahead of the election. The claim is that if Syriza does not bend to the will of the IMF and Europe, it will be forced to exit the Euro and enter a devastating economic isolation.
But, as The Guardian's Helena Smith points out, "Greece is already crumbling. Hobbled by the excruciating choice between more austerity measures, which have already pushed the country into an economic death spiral, or eurozone exit, the nation is not just desperate but paralysed."
"The election," she writes, "takes place against a backdrop of economic, social and political collapse."
* * *
The leader of Greece's leftist SYRIZA party on Tuesday ruled out forming a government with pro-bailout parties after June 17 elections that could decide the nation's future in the euro zone.
"We will take the responsibility of governing the country and guaranteeing a stable, safe and just course for the people within the euro zone."
-Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA chief
Instead, SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras said that, if elected, he would lead a government of the left against the painful austerity measures demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Tsipras, who wants to scrap a 130 billion euro ($162 billion) bailout deal signed in March, rejected what he called an "all-party ragtag" following calls for a unity government in case next week's vote proves as inconclusive as the last one held in May.
"After two consecutive elections, people demand a clear direction," he said.
The leader of the Socialist PASOK party, Evangelos Venizelos, said at the weekend that Greece risked social unrest unless all parties were involved in making the hard decisions which lay ahead.
The last opinion polls published before a pre-election blackout showed SYRIZA running neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy party, which wants only minor adjustments to the bailout.
No party appears strong enough to form a government alone.
Tsipras, a 37 year-old civil engineer who shot from obscurity to international prominence after the May election, repeated his pledge to keep Greece in the euro zone, despite his promise to renege on the bailout accord.
"We will take the responsibility of governing the country and guaranteeing a stable, safe and just course for the people within the euro zone," he said.
* * *
Whether they like it, or not, Sunday's poll is the referendum they were not allowed to have when the former prime minister George Papandreou dared suggest such a thing, in the autumn of 2011.
Last time around, anger gave Alexis Tsipras, leader of the virulently anti-austerity, far-left Syriza party, the upper hand. From garnering a mere 4.6 % of the vote in October 2009, the eclectic alliance of Marxists, ex-Euro communists and champagne socialists clinched 16.78% on the back of its staunch opposition to the onerous conditions attached to the rescue loans keeping the debt-choked economy afloat.
This time, the politics of fear – articulated best by Antonis Samaras, the leader of the conservative New Democracy party – appear to have given the "pro-European", conservative bloc the upper hand. "The drachma equals death" is now the mantra of Samaras, who leaves no one in any doubt that Tsipras's "dangerous, irresponsible, third-world policies" will ultimately lead to Greece's exit from the eurozone and return to the drachma.
The truth is that Greece is already crumbling. Hobbled by the excruciating choice between more austerity measures, which have already pushed the country into an economic death spiral, or eurozone exit, the nation is not just desperate but paralyzed. As the entire media has pointed out, the election takes place against a backdrop of economic, social and political collapse, with shortages of medicines and foodstuffs and a collective sense of doom that is matched only by the deepening sense of dysfunction enveloping the state. In Athens now, even the traffic lights don't work.
Greece has enough cash to survive until 15 July, says Giorgos Zanias, finance minister in the caretaker Greek government. In the past 15 days alone, another €4bn (£3.2bn) has been withdrawn by panic-stricken investors from banks, according to Greek media reports. That's on top of an estimated €20bn since the last election.
The cash flight is perhaps the most obvious sign of fear. The suggestion that Greece may be sacrificed by Germany anyway – a bombshell the British chancellor, George Osborne, delivered on Tuesday – is bound to ensure that the local banking system is emptied out even more. And as that happens, the fear of uncertainty will grow, until Greeks cast their ballots in a poll that, one way or the other, is unlikely to end the journey of fear.
# # #