Voters Give Alexis Tsipras Another Chance to Fix Greece

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GREECE-POLITICS-VOTE-ELECTIONS
Alexis Tsipras.Photo: ARIS MESSINIS

Greeks voted Alexis Tsipras and the leftist Syriza party to power once again on Sunday, a few weeks after the prime minister called a snap election, realizing that his current governing coalition would make dealing with the European Union’s demands for the small, broke country difficult. 

The mandate that the Greek people gave us is crystal clear: to get rid of the wickedness and the regime of corruption and intertwined interests that have ruled the country for years,” said Tsipras, the youngest Greek prime minister in more than a century. “You gave us the second decisive chance to be done with that. We will be judged in the next four years on how efficient we are starting tomorrow morning.”

Syriza will likely form a government, once again, with the nationalist Independent Greeks party. It’s not a natural alliance. European Parliament head Martin Schulz told a French radio station, “I called him a second time to ask him why he was continuing a coalition with this strange, far-right party. He pretty much didn’t answer. … He told me things that seemed convincing, but which ultimately in my eyes are a little bizarre.”

The mandate that Tsipras — who rose to power at the beginning of the year promising to fight austerity — praised was a bit less resounding than he is describing. Voter turnout on Sunday was the lowest in Greek history; only 56 percent of voters cast a ballot. Although voters still seem to prefer Tsipras to other potential party leaders, he did agree to an austerity-laden bailout package. Pollsters were not feeling bullish about a Tsipras victory in the past few weeks. Syriza won a smaller percentage of the total vote than it did in January, and still doesn’t have a majority.

However, the party will likely be a far more united voice than it was a few weeks ago; those in the party who disagreed with Tsipras’s decision on the bailout formed their own party, Popular Unity — its platform involved pushing for Greece to leave the eurozone — and did not do so well in the election. 

Another party, however, greatly improved its election performance — the anti-immigration, neo-fascist Golden Dawn came in third place with 7 percent behind Syriza and conservative New Democracy. Earlier this year, some of the party’s leaders were charged with running a criminal operation. Voters who supported Golden Dawn — the only party to see its electoral popularity increase — were probably influenced by the migrant crisis. Many refugees heading for Europe try to enter the eurozone through Greece. A professor at Athens University told The Guardian that the party’s “performance is a danger and disgrace for our democracy.”

Tsipras won reelection shortly before the government will need to start implementing the austerity measures demanded by European creditors — tax increases, pension cuts — changes that are likely not to help Tsipras’s popularity in the short term. In other words, Tsipras may feel like voters are giving him a thumbs-up, but once those hypothetical changes become a reality, he’ll probably be thankful that the election didn’t take place a few weeks later.

Postelection celebrations were scarce in Athens, where rain began to pour as voting ended.