Greece’s new leader moves to form anti-austerity government

Greek left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras will move on Monday to build a stable government that can take on international lenders and reverse years of painful austerity following a crushing election victory by his Syriza party.

Fresh from his defeat of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the 40-year-old Tsipras will meet the head of the small Independent Greeks party which, like Syriza, opposes Greece’s bailout deal.

Syriza won 149 seats in the 300-seat parliament in Sunday’s election, two short of an absolute majority, but the result marked a comprehensive rejection of the years of austerity demanded by the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for the €240-billion bailout.

“Greece leaves behind catastrophic austerity, it leaves behind fear and authoritarianism, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and suffering,” Tsipras told thousands of cheering supporters gathered in Athens on Sunday.

Syriza’s campaign slogan “Hope is coming!” resonated with voters worn down by huge budget cuts and heavy tax rises during the years of crisis that have sent unemployment over 25% and pushed millions into poverty.

Tsipras aims to move swiftly to create the first euro zone government elected to undo the orthodox conservative polices of strict budgetary rigour that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has championed for the bloc’s most troubled economies.

First new party in 40 years
He expects to be sworn in as prime minister on Monday and have a government in place by Wednesday morning at the latest, according to a Syriza official.

For the first time in more than 40 years, neither the New Democracy party of Samaras nor the centre-left PASOK, the two forces that had dominated Greek politics since the fall of a military junta in 1974, will be in power.

Tsipras is due to meet Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos at 10.30am and also expects to talk to the heads of two other parties, the centrist To Potami and the communist KKE, a sign he may look for their support even if they do not join a formal coalition.

The Independent Greeks, a right-wing party with a hardline stance against illegal immigration, disagrees with Syriza on many social issues which could create tensions but it shares its opposition to the international bailout.

Tsipras, who promises to keep Greece in the euro, has toned down his rhetoric and said he will negotiate an agreement with the “troika” of the EU, European Central Bank and IMF.

However, he has promised Greek voters to renegiotiate the country’s huge debts, causing consternation in Berlin which has insisted that Athens honour the terms of its 2010 bailout deal.

Together with last week’s decision by the ECB to pump billions of euros into the euro zone’s flagging economy despite objections from Germany, Syriza’s victory marks a turning point in the long euro zone crisis.

Daunting challenges
But after the euphoria of election night, hailed by flag-waving crowds in Athens, Tsipras faces daunting challenges and can expect strong resistance to his demands from Germany in particular.

With Greece unable to tap the markets because of sky-high borrowing costs and facing about €10-billion of debt payments this summer, he will have to seek a deal to unlock more than €7-billion of outstanding aid by the time the bailout is due to expire on February 28.

The euro hit an 11-year low versus the dollar after initial results came out, as markets reacted to the prospect of a standoff within the EU, although many analysts believe a Syriza government can reach a settlement with its partners.

However, Syriza’s victory will also encourage other anti-austerity forces in Europe and add impetus to calls for a change of course away from the focus on budget belt-tightening and structural reform favoured by Berlin.

Those calls have come not just from anti-system movements such as Podemos in Spain but also from leaders such as French President Francois Hollande, who congratulated Tsipras on his win, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. – Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Refugees in Greece face rising hostility

A new government is getting 'tough' on immigration – but local organisations provide crucial support

Thomas Cook’s big fat Greek wedding ruined after firm collapses

The couple, from the town of Hucknall near Nottingham in central England, said they had spent almost £10 000 on a wedding package with Thomas Cook

IMF wilfully takes austerity road

East Asia 1998, Greece 2008, Argentina 2018. The fund knows the suffering its loans cause, yet it has gone ahead in Ecuador

On politics and divine instruction

When someone with such a magnificent name, and holding such an impressive position, tells you something, you have to believe her

My colleague’s stake in the Reserve Bank billionaire club

The bulk of the Reserve Bank’s shareholders are individuals,but include trusts, pension funds, unions, a library, and an archbishop

What to do about our unemployed doctors

It’s official. Austerity budgets may be here to stay. Here’s how South Africa should be working with what it’s got to provide healthcare.

Sekhukhune’s five-year battle for water back in court

The residents of five villages are calling for the district municipal manager to be arrested

Fees free fall, independent schools close

Parents have lost their jobs or had salaries cut; without state help the schools just can’t survive

Vaccine trial results due in December

If successful, it will then have to be manufactured and distributed

White men still rule and earn more

Women and black people occupy only a few seats at the JSE table, the latest PwC report has found

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday