24 August 2015

Five things to read today about Greece’s snap election


On Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced he was resigning and calling a snap election, to be held on the 20th of September. The man who has led Greece for less than eight months has watched its stocks tumble, its banks run out of money, and its standing within the Eurozone disintegrate. After months of dead-end negotiations and brinkmanship with the troika leaders, in the end it was Tspiras who blinked first, agreeing to the terms of a new bailout just weeks after Greek citizens voted to reject an almost identical deal by 61% to 39%. His acquiescence, which some see as submission, to the Eurozone has sparked rebellion within his own party.

With Greece at a turning point yet again, here are five articles to help get the full picture.

Greek Election: Syriza 2.0 vs. What’s Left by Marcus Bensasson and Jonathan Stearns, Bloomberg

Eight months on from his emphatic election victory, Tsipras’s U-turn in accepting a third bailout and all its conditions has split his party, with at least 25 lawmakers breaking away to form a new anti-bailout group.

The election is the 41-year-old leader’s bid to reassert his hold over the country. He’s trying to reinvent Syriza as a center-left, pro-bailout force and the euro area’s best partner for implementing structural economic reforms.

This is your guide to the election, detailing which parties are in play, and what they’re hoping for. In addition to Syriza and last year’s ruling party New Democracy, keep an eye on Popular Unity. This is the rebel party made up of 25 Syriza MPs who left in protest when Tspiras agreed to the new deal. They are against austerity at any cost, and if that means Grexit, so be it.

Greek election confusion raises fresh fears over ability to pay debts by Helena Smith, The Guardian

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.”

Yes, it’s getting personal, and New Democracy is not holding back. Over the weekend, leader Evangelos Meimarakis had the opportunity to try to form his own coalition government, but Tsipras refused to talk to him, preferring fresh elections to collaboration with his right-wing rivals. Now that New Democracy’s three-day exploratory period has expired, the next biggest party will have the chance to look for coalition partners in the hope of forming a government – and that party is Popular Unity. Success is unlikely, and a caretaker government is set to take over next week. Meanwhile, Samaras is getting hyperbolic: “Everything is being sacrificed at the altar of the internal aspirations of the prime minister’s office.”

Anything-goes Tsipras by Alexis Papachelas, Ekathimerini

Perhaps it would be great to have a leftist populist leader who would mislead the masses as he is busy pushing privatizations, rebuilding the state and education system, and curbing corruption. Such a leader would be mostly welcomed by centrist voters. I am afraid that is too much to expect from a politician who is the par excellence political and cultural product of Greece’s post-dictatorship era.

No one is happy with Tsipras at the moment – not his own Syriza MPs, not the opposition party, and not those who really would like to see Greece succeed. The real question being asked seems to be what does this populist leader stand for, other than his own power?


Greece: The paradox of power by Kevin Featherstone and Dimitris Papadimitriou, Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The PM’s current predicament, like that of his predecessors, reflects deep-rooted weaknesses at the very heart of the Greek ‘core executive’. Despite the fact that a prime minister in Greece possesses formal, constitutional powers that are amongst the strongest in Europe, the centre of government lacks the appropriate resources to coordinate ministry ‘silos’ that operate with a significant degree of autonomy… The Greek PM does not have at his disposal a permanent bureaucracy (a ‘Cabinet Office’) for the coordination of government business. Instead, he is surrounded by political appointees and the operational norms are ones of trust and personal, particularistic contacts, in a setting that lacks effective process and is hopelessly disconnected with the wider public administration. The ‘system’ is devoid of institutional memory and is designed for the short term; rather than the control, coordination and accountability of substantive reform programmes.

Maybe Tsipras himself isn’t entirely to blame. This is the piece to read if you’ve ever wondered why Greece can’t just get it together. In short, the Greek state is composed in such a way that its public administration lacks basic capabilities that the rest of the Eurozone takes for granted. Featherstone and Papadimitriou’s new book explores this further, but the point they are making is clear: Samaras failed, Tsipras failed, and the next Greek Prime Minister is unlikely to do much better.

Coming soon. Another Greek election by Alberto Mingardi, EconLog

Also, in the fall we’ll have elections in Portugal and Spain, too. Greece will precede them. What kind of scenario can another Tsipras victory help to materialize? Can we imagine a domino effect in these countries shifting to the left? Or, on the contrary, the fragility of Syriza will make the populist left all of the sudden a less attractive option?

There is instability in the Eurozone, and it isn’t confined to Greece. Supporters and critics of Spain’s Podemos and Portugal’s left-wing protest parties will be watching the result of this election closely. There is no certainty in any outcome. Has Tsipras grown up, sold out, or neither? Mingardi wonders “Hasn’t the mainstream press accepted his conversion from crackpot communist to ‘normal’ social democrat too quickly?”

Finally, if you really want an insight into how this snap election is likely to pan out…

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.