Greece: Snap election and the future of bailout deal

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned after seven months in office.

Questions:

1. As PM Alexis Tsipras quits, what would you say it means for the future of the deal with Eurozone?

2. It is probably a very good chance that Syriza will split, but do you think Tsipras could remain the dominant force on the Greek political scene, or having an early election is really a challenge for him?

Answers:

Kostas Lavdas, Professor of Hellenic and European Studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

1. Not much in the medium to longer-term. The deal will not be seriously affected, most political and social forces really want it to stick, be implemented, and work. Having said that, a new snap election (the second one in 2015, not to mention the totally unnecesary referendum) will of course cause delays and will hinder the quick restart of the economy in the short term.

2. SYRIZA split – a new formation (Popular Unity) was announced earlier today by Lafazanis and 25 MPs. Tsipras will remain a significant presence because of his communication skills and – frankly – his cynical opportunism and unique lack of responsible statesmanship, but his image is on the decline. But it’s early to say with confidence what will happen in late September. I’ll have to come back to you on this.

Nikolaos ZahariadisProfessor, Department of Government, University of Alabama at Birmingham

1. The deal is theoretically a given since it was already approved by parliament. The problem is implementation and of course the cost this entails. Here things become very complex. Assuming the elections are held mid-September, I don’t think there will be re-negotiations (barring the completely unexpected) but I foresee very difficult times for everyone. This is partly because I don’t think SYRIZA will get the kinds of votes it did (given the split), and I am not sure anyone else will receive them. So I foresee a stalemate with the need for a grand coalition. I hope this means reasonable people will get together to get things done, but… It is possible we may have yet another round as we did in 2012 with all the adverse consequences this entails (and then things were actually not as bad)!!

2. Tsipras seems to enjoy popularity, which I find baffling on its own, but which makes sense given the rest of the political leadership. He may retain this “crown,” although I recall polls in mid 2014 which held Samaras, the previous prime minister, in much higher esteem and popularity than Tsipras. This tells me things can change very quickly. It really depends on the narrative. If he can persuade the electorate that everyone else is to blame, which appears to be his specialty, then perhaps he can continue enjoying popularity. The problem is that there really does not appear to be much else in terms of personalities. The leaders of the other three mainstream parties (I leave the Independent Greeks aside) are actually newbies in leadership terms although they have been in politics for a while except for Theodorakis who was a journalist. They just don’t appear to have dramatic personalities to make that leap. My worst fear is what will happen with Golden Dawn. There is a forward dynamic for a party whose leadership remains jailed. Yet, they are currently the third party in terms of strength. This tells me the electorate is becoming more polarized with significant eurosceptic potential. If Tsipras can still speak from both sides of his mouth – he is for and against Europe (that he has said and done), for and against the agreement he signed (again he has said that too but now he has to be held accountable) – he can remain a force for a long time to come. I am not sure he can do it, but crazier things have happened…

James Arvanitakis, Professor in the Humanities, University of Western Sydney

1. In the immediate future it places the deal into doubt – essentially placing a pause button on the deal.

But In the longer term, it seems that the Greek population, while fed up with austerity, does not want to leave the EU, then the deal will be back on the table…

I suppose it will depend on the election outcome: if there is no clear winner, then Greece will be paralysed, and then the deal could be off by default. But if there is a clear winner, chances are that the deal will be back on: if a far left party could not convince the Greek people to leave the euro, then nothing will.

2. Syria seems a shell in many ways – the party had essentially turned on Tsipras and he was relying on the opposition’s support to get anything done. I think they have lost the moral high ground here and, like many coalitions that form quickly, may well quickly dissipate.

I cannot see Tsipras influencing now: the far left have given up on him – feeling he betrayed Varoufakis and the mainstream right party has always seen him as a left wing populist…

I could be wrong, but you get the sense Tsipras could well be a spent force unless he can regather some of his leftist support base.

Michális Michael, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University

1. While the snap elections complicates the timetable regarding the creditors bailout terms and conditions and is likely to create uncertainty in the short-term (next 2-3 months – depending on the electoral outcome and the process to gather a majority government), it was the most sensible for the political and democratic stability of the country. I think that European leaders also share this assessment, despite some concerns that a worse case scenario in terms of electoral outcome would see a Grexit (which by now they are psychological, politically, culturally and economically prepared – or at least forewarned), and that its better to have a stronger stable government in Greece than one that meagres through indecisively always susceptible to internal opposition. It is also a trigger, and an opportunity, to broaden the support with those forces that support the bailout and its conditions – which is now synonymous with staying in the Eurozeone – and those who are opposed to the bailout and want to take Greece out of the Eurozone towards a new currency and probably a new political-economic orientation. It also allows Tsipras to gain a new mandate for his U-turn vis-à-vis when he first got elected in January and the referendum.

2. Its a political gamble for Tsipras but he is accustomed to change and volatility. I don’t think he had a choice and it is the most sensible thing to do: to bring about stability, clear the landscape (and Syriza in the process) and allow the Greek people to decide who and what they support. After all he – and Syriza – was elected with a different mandate which, given the prevailing and changing circumstances, he can’t honour. He needs a new mandate, a new popular endorsement. To have waited longer would have jeopardised the rescue package as last Friday’s vote indicated with 43 out of 149 of Syriza MPs (nearly 1/3) voting against the legislation. He knows that the longer the internal rift with the left faction (Aristera Platform) continues the weaker and more unpopular he becomes. Riding on 60% approval rate is a strong basis to go into an election.

I foresee that Syriza will loose some ground to the anti-bailout elements but will remain one of the main governing parties (with conservative-liberal New Democracy). Whether Tsipras remains a dominant figure of Greek politics is hard to speculate, but he will certainly remain a key and leading figure. It depends on whether he is returned as Prime Minister, either on his own accord or heading a coalition. If he remain PM he will be able to consolidate his political position and shape Greece’s political destiny. As expected, he has shifted – if not by choice then by circumstances – to the middle ground (thought some believe that he was never as radical as he projected) which finds him closer to PASOK, the centrist Potami, than to communist KKE.

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