Greek election confusion raises fresh fears over ability to pay debts

Confusion over the timing of fresh elections in Greece has threatened to jeopardise the prospects for a smooth transition to a new government and the ability of the debt-stricken country to meet the conditions of its €86-billion bailout.

The election campaign intensified over the weekend with officials preparing candidate lists and the appointment of a caretaker administration after the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras refused to participate in talks with other party leaders to form a new government.

The prospect of snap elections in Greece has raised fears that the country will once again fall behind implementation of vital reforms as officials indicated the poll could be held as early as September 20. Eurozone politicians and investors are keenly watching the situation in Athens after Tsipras said he needed to renew his mandate with the Greek people following the deal with Brussels.

Tsipras chose to resign on Thursday and call fresh elections after an anti-bailout mutiny by his Syriza party’s Eurosceptics formally ended his parliamentary majority, rather than try to win a confidence vote.

Last week, stock markets fell partly in response to the growing uncertainty that Greece, despite negotiating a third bailout, will be able to carry out the tough demands for further austerity and sweeping reforms agreed as part of the package.

Commenting on Tsipras’s refusal to engage in exploratory discussions with the main opposition leader, Evangelos Meimarakis – handed a mandate to form a government last Friday – a senior official said: “The prime minister explained … that there is no chance of establishing a government in the current parliament, which is why he immediately handed the mandate to the president of the republic.”

Tsipras’s determination to forge ahead with elections has further divided a political scene already polarised by the handling of talks to keep the country afloat.

“The effort of everyone to create a better tomorrow demands concord, dialogue and broader cooperation between political forces,” the conservative New Democracy party retorted. “The meetings of political leaders in the framework of exploratory mandates, is among other things, aimed at reducing political tension.”

Indicative of the fevered mood, the former prime minister Antonis Samaras accused his successor of acting like a “drunk captain of a rudderless ship.”

The ballot, called barely eight months after Tsipras stormed to power promising to fight austerity mandated by Greece’s EU partners, would be catastrophic, Samaras predicted.

“Once again, it will plunge the country into absolute uncertainty,” he told the Sunday Vima. “Everything is being sacrificed at the altar of the internal aspirations of the prime minister’s office.”

Tsipras announced the election last week after rebels in his leftwing Syriza party refused to support a third bailout, agreed after months of acrimonious talks with both the EU and International Monetary Fund.

The aid package foresees draconian cutbacks and tax increases in return for up to €86-billion of urgently needed loans. Five years of punishing austerity – the price of two bailouts worth €240-billion – have already exerted a heavy toll in the form of record levels of poverty, unemployment and an unprecedented drop in GDP.

Dissidents from Syriza, who have formed a new political force called Popular Unity, upped the ante in heated exchanges with their former party at the weekend. The new group, which has attracted 25 Syriza MPs, accused Tsipras of acting in cahoots with foreign lenders with the sole aim of purging dissidents and clearing up the political landscape.

Reflecting the widespread anger the party’s U-turn has generated among Syriza supporters, the second world war hero, Manolis Glezos, appealed for leftist forces to unite against Tsipras. “The government of Maximos,” he said in snide reference to the aides that have surrounded Tsipras in his prime ministerial office, “neither gave the power to the people nor work to the people. ”

Glezos spoke as the stand-off between the government and the speaker of the parliament, Zoi Konstantopoulou, a top Syriza member until she, too, also broke ranks in disgust over Tsipras’s volte-face, also intensified.

Lambasting her one-time friend for calling the election “on the sly,” Konstantopoulou disputed the way the poll had been organised, saying only creditors had been informed of the surprise move beforehand. Tsipras’s office shot back saying Konstantopoulou, a popular figure on the anti-bailout left, was acting like a dictator.

“She thinks she’s at the institutional centre of democracy when she’s just a wrong choice,” it said.

Despite Tsipras’s refusal to participate in talks, rebels insisted that as the country’s third biggest political force they, too, would take advantage of the three-day mandate to explore the possibility of forming a government. The directive will be handed over to the Popular Unity leader, Panagiotis Lafazanis, on Monday.

Insiders say with Lafazanis standing little chance of success, a caretaker administration will likely take over next week. The supreme court president Vassiliki Thanou-Chistophilou, whose anti-bailout stance saw her being appointed to the post earlier this year, is expected to head the temporary cabinet, making her Greece’s first female prime minister. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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Helena Smith
Helena Smith works from Athens. Helena Smith is the Guardian's correspondent in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus Helena Smith has over 7053 followers on Twitter.

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