In a move that came as a surprise to many, sources have told Reuters that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will announce Thursday that he will 'step down' from his post as soon as this evening and that new elections for control of the government will be held next month.
"The aim is to hold elections on Sept. 20," the government official reportedly said after Tsipras met with senior party officials and ministers to discuss the government’s next move.
Though a call for snap elections was ultimately expected, many assumed they would not be held until after a confidence vote in Parliament. Tsipras' preemptive resignation was not widely foreseen, though the ruling government is compelled to give over power once the election is officially announced. Media outlets report that Tsipras will address the nation tonight to make his resignation official and make clear his reasons for doing so.
According to the Guardian:
Once he submits his resignation the prime minister would be replaced by the president of Greece’s supreme court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou – a vocal bailout opponent – who would oversee the elections as the head of a transitional government.
Tsipras won parliamentary backing for the tough bailout programme last week by a comfortable margin despite a large-scale rebellion among members of his ruling leftwing Syriza party, nearly one-third of whose 149 MPs either voted against the deal or abstained. Syriza governs in a coalition with the rightwing, anti-austerity party Independent Greeks (Anel).
The revolt by hardliners angry at what they view as a betrayal of the party’s pledge to fight austerity left Tsipras short of the 120 votes he would need – two-fifths of the 300-seat assembly – to survive a censure motion and he was widely expected to call a confidence vote this week or next.
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He has now decided to skip that step, deciding instead to go straight to the country in an attempt to silence rebels and shore up public support for the draconian three-year bailout programme, which entails a radical overhaul of the Greek economy including further tax hikes, spending cuts and major reforms of health, welfare, pensions and taxation.
Tsipras appears to have calculated that it was better to call the elections early, before the effects of the new bailout measures – including further pension cuts, VAT increases and a “solidarity” tax on incomes – started to make themselves felt.
Describing the announcement of new elections as a potential opportunity for the Greek people, Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research, said it is not too late for the nation to consider an orderly exit (or "Grexit") from the Eurozone as a viable alternative to further foreign debt bondage and imposed austerity.
"European Union officials have already said that, under the new agreement, the Greek economy will remain in depression for this year and next," Weisbrot said. The most recent bailout package, he continued, "is not for the Greek people – this is the Greek people being thrown overboard."
Many people in Greece, including Tsipras, have accepted the "continued punishment" from foreign creditors because they think the alternative would be worse, explained Weisbrot. "But," he said, "it is unlikely that Greece would remain in depression for longer than what is forecast for the current program, if the country were to issue its own currency. And it could avoid some of the worst ‘reforms’ that the European authorities are demanding."
The coming economic downturn in Greece, Weisbrot predicted, "will be one of the worst depressions in modern times."