Why Tsipras prefers the right-wing partner
Days before the second greek elections of 2015, a left minister of SYRIZA was asked, what their political party would do, if the “Independent Greeks” (ANEL) -the right-wing populist party with whom they had a governmental coalition at the first period- did not manage to be elected again. “In that case, our government partner will be PASOK,” answered without any hesitation. In the next question, “Why would you choose PASOK (the social democrats) over Potami (centrist and liberal party)”, the answer was truly shocking: “Potami are idealist neo-liberals, while PASOK… they are just crooks. If we give them some ministries and some governmental posts, they will allow us to do what we want….the others will impose their own political terms.”
Overcoming the Syriza minister’s judgments on whether PASOK and Potami are indeed “crooks” and “idealist neo-liberals”, the rationale revealed and confirmed along the way, is of significant importance.
SYRIZA yearned for governmental power and the right to “use it” in every possible way; subsequently, a political partner that would not prevent them from doing so, was preferable. Political ethos and honesty -if someone, is a “crook”, according to the expression used by the minister- does not matter. It is fair enough, if the job is done.
The right-wing populist party (ANEL), has always been the first choice of Syriza’s, called Radical Left, PASOK being the second; with PASOK there were strong bonds and there are still some, nowadays. Still, PASOK’s leadership is clearly displeased, since they preferred -twice- the conservative populist Kammenos instead of them, while Syriza allowed them to believe that they would be the chosen ones.
Let us mention, that according to the polls which took place before the greek elections of September 2015, it was still vague, whether the “Independent Greeks” (ANEL) would be able to rejoin the Parliament. Both, Potami and PASOK though, were ready to accept the role of the new governmental partner, as they had helped Alexis Tsipras through the third program of austerity measures (for which he strongly protested in the past) being voted by their members of the Greek Parliament. There was a strong belief, that even if the “Independent Greeks” (ANEL) were able to be elected, SYRIZA would chose them, as now there was no alibi for the policy against the IMF and the lenders to justify coalition with an extreme-right wing party. Yet, it was the leadership of SYRIZA, which deliberately allowed them to believe that they would be selected as the new governmental partners. The truth is, however, that SYRIZA’s leadership had absolutely predetermined what they were about to do.
Alexis Tsipras and Panos Kammenos, his right-wing populist partner, created a bond from the beginning, and beyond their political relationship, a personal friendship was established. There was no intention, consequently, to change the governmental partner. During this second time coalition, the justification of the fight against austerity programs was avoided, as these two parties (SYRIZA and ANEL), had both accepted the austerity and had come to terms with it, in order to maintain power.
SYRIZA’s leadership had made ‘a job description’ for the governmental partner and the most suitable candidate, was the right-wing populist, Panos Kammenos.
The Dice are Loaded
A few days ago, the president of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Klaus Regling, stated that: “It makes no difference who will be the next Greek government, since 80% of Greek MPs have already voted for the bailout program”.
In saying that, Mr. Regling reminded us that whatever government comes out of the Greek ballots on Sept.20th, the political program which will be imposed is the one implemented by the bailout deal. The program which includes the terms forced by the creditors. Everybody knows that this program is nothing more that the IMF recipe with a few alterations.
Since it has already been voted in the parliament by both the major parties who have a realistic stake at gaining power, none of them will be able to question it the next day. Demagogues may shout and mice may roar. The foolish attempts to waste time or to prove that day is night might continue. But nothing further than that can be done.
There will be no useful, real reforms for the true benefit of the Greek society since none of the candidates has no such plans. Nor have they presented us with any plans for economic growth. The term is only used in speeches but its void of any meaning. None of the parties’ think tanks have done any work concerning economic growth and the Greek citizens are well aware of that.
Both parties question and doubt the IMF’s neoliberal recipe that is imposed on Greece for the last five years. Yet none of those parties have come up with a national plan that would prove that another way is realistic and feasible.
Greece’s creditors have tried to force those policies upon the country for the past five years. Ideally, they would have preferred to be met with total compliance and no reactions. On the contrary they were faced with a strong anti-memorandum front. This front found its main political expression through Syriza who developed from a small, left wing party of protest, into a major party who rose to power.
The most recent and triumphant victory of the creditors was that they managed to break up this anti-memorandum front. They dragged the leadership of Syriza exactly where they wanted and they forced it to vote for the latest deal. It was inevitable that the party would break up, as the left wing within it would have never obeyed. At the same time, these developments, erased ANEL (the junior coalition party) from the political map.
ANEL is a populist, right wing party, who’s only raison d’etre was to offer voice to those conservative voters who disagreed with the memorandum. Once the party joined the pro-memorandum camp and voted for the most recent bailout deal, the voters had no more reason to support them.
Syriza has lost its core it was not only the left wing (Left Platform) that abandoned it; the most active, political and ideological part of the party, as well as the members of its youth organizations have followed suit.
It is telling of the decay of Syriza’s infrastructure that, after the pro-memorandum u-turn made by the leadership, the party marches towards the elections without a general secretary (who quit without being replaced). Additionally, the youth organizations are in tatters since most of its members have also quit. Another impressive signs is that this is the first time that a Greek party of the left, had to pay for pre-election campaign work as they could not find enough volunteers.
The main communication campaign was made by professionals with the use of the media. Although Syriza has repeatedly accused the mainstream media of being corrupt, it seems that a truce has been reached with most of them, as many of that very media offer their discreet, or not so discreet, support.
Syriza is, however, well aware that it is walking on thin ice. The losses to the left continue and they will not stop after the elections. At the same time, those right wing voters who supported it in order to protest against high home-ownership taxation are abandoning it too.
Syriza’s strategy was to lure in voters belonging to the centre-left, and as far as the centre-right, of the political spectrum. The reasoning was that once Syriza abandoned its extreme character, the voters would no longer have a reason to be afraid of it. Syriza is swiftly turning into a leader-oriented party. The party mechanisms are in disarray and the entirety of its campaign focuses on the leader who is “younger” and therefore less “worn out”. The campaign and the arguments have no real political content whatsoever.
The country is going through its most crucial period since democracy was
reestablished in 1974, yet it is surprising to note that these elections are among the most downgraded. The main reason for that is what Klaus Regling explained. It is the first time that the result “doesn’t count”. The Greeks are not voting in order to decide what program will be imposed. Everybody knows that this is decided, and the elections cannot change it.
What they are asked to do is decide who will manage the specific program and none of the candidates seems desirable enough.
Mr.Tsipras was proven to be very weak and not prepared to deal with such a hard situation. He also was found to be insincere. He was elected because he promised to get rid of the IMF and end the austerity programs. After a short while he went to the people with a referendum, asking them if they wanted a new bailout. The people answered ‘no’, like he urged them to. Right after the referendum, the PM turned the people’s ‘no’ into a yes (his critics accuse him of totalitarianism) and he went on to sign an even harsher bailout deal with even more austere measures dictated by the IMF.
The leader of the opposition, E.Meimarakis belongs to the elite of the political formations which ruled Greece for the past 40 years and the people consider them to be primarily responsible for the dire situation of the present.
It seems that the reason Mr.Meimarakis’ party (ND) is enjoying a come-back, is that the voters who had left it for Syriza are now returning to it. The party can also claim that Mr.Tsipras had to do a u-turn when he also understood that the IMF method is the only viable one, thus justifying ND’s arguments.
The leading team of Syriza is not very fond of political analyses and they tend to ignore the consequences of their decisions. They seem to forget the reasons why they went from being a 4% party to a 36% government; the reason was none other than their rejection of the bailout policies and their commitment to stop them. Today these reasons are no more. In an attempt to get a new breath of life, the government rushed to call for elections before the people would realize how harsh the new measures will be. The government of Syriza went so far as to postpone the collection of taxes. The goal was to create a short period of pleasant virtual reality. After the elections, this bubble will also burst and the people will be enraged again. But, by then, the elections will have finished.
If Syriza manages to stay in power, new measures will have to be imposed and these will continue to weaken the party.
The liquidity of the political establishment, and the high mobility, will continue while it is not easy to see how the country and the society will be able to escape this vicious circle.
Snap Election in Greece: No Matter the Outcome, Neoliberalism Reigns Supreme
Friday, 18 September 2015
By Vassiliki Siouti, Truthout | News Analysis
The outcome of the snap election in Greece, to be held September 20, is a foregone conclusion. Greeks realize that no matter which of the major parties wins the elections, the Greek government will implement the program that has been designed by the country’s official creditors and which is based around a classic International Monetary Fund (IMF) recipe.
To be sure, a few days ago the president of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling, cynically confessed that it matters little which party rules the next government of Greece. What matters is that a new rescue package agreed upon with the official creditors was passed through parliament by an 80 percent majority by the previous government, a coalition government between the radical left Syriza party and the right-wing Independent Greeks, just before its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned and called for a snap election. Like the two previous rescue packages, the new one is structured around an explicitly neoliberal economic agenda.
Of course, Regling is ignoring the fact that Syriza and its leader, Tsipras, won the elections last January because they promised the Greek people that they would end austerity and do away with the troika of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, since they ended up doing the exact opposite from what they had promised. Tsipras’ Syriza reneged on its promises and accepted austerity as an inevitable condition for keeping Greece in the eurozone by signing a new loan agreement with onerous terms that are sure to make the poor even poorer. Tsipras’ leftist government made an outrageous U-turn on austerity without the political legitimization to do so.
Shortly before signing the new painful agreement, Syriza appealed directly to the people by holding a rare referendum. An astonishing 62 percent of the Greek people voted “no” to a new austerity agreement, but Tsipras turned the vote into a “yes” and a few days later accepted a new agreement by the nation’s official creditors that was no different in its essentials from the previous ones.
The abandonment of the left-leaning Syriza program and the alignment with many of the policies favored by the previous governments led to a split in the party. Its left wing abandoned Syriza, creating a new party with members who wish to remain faithful to the program under which they were elected in the last elections.
Several of them have accused Tsipras of “treason,” while others simply spoke of a lack of preparation and frivolity. Tsipras himself remains optimistic and believes that now that he has gotten rid of the radical elements in his party he might be able to lure voters from the conservative and moderate segments of Greek society, which before would have never voted for the left.
However, what has actually happened is that Tsipras’ U-turn has managed to revive the conservative party of New Democracy, which up until a month ago was on the verge of collapse. After his retreat, Tsipras declared publicly that there is no alternative to austerity policies. As a result, his argument now is echoing that of the conservatives while in the previous elections he opposed them by arguing that another path was possible.
Many conservative voters had abandoned the right-wing party of “New Democracy” because of the large tax on property levied by that government. Tsipras had vowed to do away with that particular tax, but he reneged on that promise as well, so a good chunk of the conservative voting bloc is now returning to its political home.
The large estate tax, one of the main reasons the conservatives lost the previous elections, is still in place and the Syriza government has called on the haves and have-nots to pay it indiscriminately.
Even so, Tsipras is urging the people not to abandon Syriza and make his government a “left parenthesis” in the pages of Greek history. However, many former left voters are angry at Tsipras and wonder whether his government was ever committed to a leftist agenda as it never took any steps to improve the lives of the poor and those who had been most affected by the six-year crisis and the policies pursued by the previous Greek governments.
In its seven months in power, the Syriza-led government did nothing to change the extremely unjust Greek tax system, which squeezes the poor and allows the rich to dodge. It did nothing to provide opportunities to the most vulnerable segments of society or improve the collapsing public education and health-care systems, let alone make the public administration sector more efficient. With Tsipras as prime minister, the Syriza-led government did nothing about tax evasion, corruption or the cadre of magnates who speculate at the expense of the state, and not one single step was taken in the direction of enhancing transparency. Conversely, it became obvious to most people that a compromise had been reached with the nation’s oligarchs. It became equally obvious that many Syriza politicians were easily lured by power and began making all the necessary compromises in order to retain it.
Today, Alexis Tsipras openly admits that his government failed, but wants a second chance on the argument that all of his predecessors remained in power much longer than he did. He does not know exactly where he wants to take the country, but argues that he is better able to lead it because he is less “worn” in comparison to the party leaders that governed Greece during the last 40 years.
In the meantime, Tsipras continues to see many leftist voters abandoning him and Syriza. But the right-wing coalition partner, the conservative populist party of the “Independent Greeks,” remains faithful to him as he has developed a very close friendship with its leader, Panos Kammenos, who stuck with him when he surrendered to the creditors. Tsipras has stated repeatedly that he is happy with having the Independent Greeks as government partners, but has expressed deep discontent over those to the left of him that left Syriza as a result of his surrender to austerity. In fact, he has accused them of overthrowing Greece’s first leftist government.
But was Syriza a leftist government? First of all, it was a coalition government, in bed with a highly conservative, xenophobic party. So, at best, it was a government coalition with a left torso. Furthermore, the political result that it produced cannot be labeled leftist since it committed itself to yet another austerity-based bailout, which adds tens of billions of euros to the nation’s already unsustainable debt level while it reinforces the neoliberal agenda.
Many in Greece argue that the biggest problem facing the country is the lack of justice. Unfortunately the seven months that Syriza was in power dashed the great expectation that something could have been achieved in this area. In many respects, this has been perhaps the biggest disappointment for many Greeks.
Syriza was the last hope for the majority of poor and desperate Greeks as it was the only untested party among those that ran in the last elections. Now, public dissatisfaction with politics has become quite widespread and it will most likely express itself through a high abstention rate in the upcoming elections. Syriza’s leadership was aware that its policies were generating great discontent and wished to preempt it by calling a snap election. It knew that the countdown had begun and wanted to prevent the consequences. In particular, it wanted to prevent the political damage that would result once the first set of new measures accompanying the new agreement kicked in.
As Greece is about to elect a new government, the biggest disappointment is that not one of the political parties running in these elections has managed to put forward a plan on how to get the country out of the crisis. No political leader seems to be interested in promoting the real reforms that the country needs. The two major parties, the pseudo-leftist Syriza party and the conservative New Democracy, have resorted to campaign slogans claiming that Greece will march forward, but neither are offering any concrete plan on how to achieve this goal.
As such, Greece will continue to be stuck with IMF-based neoliberal policies for a long time to come, which means the tragedy of the last six years will carry over to the next generation.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
If the E.U. Can’t Help, Greece Should Get Out of the Eurozone
JANUARY 30, 2015
By Vassiliki Siouti, nytimes.com
For the last five years, Greece has been trapped in a painful situation in which it cannot afford to remain, regardless of how dangerous any attempt to escape seems. There’s a Greek proverb that describes this situation perfectly: “A cliff in front of me and a stream behind me” ― our version of “between a rock and a hard place.”
Syriza gave a voice to the large percentage of the Greek society that had been struck by the severe austerity measures, people who have been impoverished and forced to pay the share of others. Now that the election has been won, Syriza has undertaken the difficult task of putting an end to this austerity that has been the source of much suffering for the Greek people.
Can this be achieved without consequences? Since Greece is a member of the eurozone and has to act within its frameworks, the logical answer is “no.” That’s because the eurozone does not allow for an exit from austerity which it subscribes as medicine ― the same austerity that Greeks view as a whip that falls violently on their backs.
The only way for Syriza to succeed in this, therefore, is to either persuade the European Union to loosen the shackles, or to cut them off altogether.
This by itself does not mean that things will get worse, although no possibility can be excluded. If the E.U. leadership, and especially Germany wasn’t hell bent on this punitive behavior, Greece could have made it without new loans. But any plan for reaching an agreement with the European partners and any chance of achieving a relaxing of the austerity measures is met with a dogmatic German persistence.
If the E.U. partners don’t allow Greece to put an end to austerity as a eurozone member, the only alternative, assuming Syriza doesn’t want to sacrifice Greek society to appease German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is to get out of the eurozone.
In that case, the risk of things getting worse is real, but also the hope for them improving is strong. Greece can once again become a sovereign nation with its people deciding for their own future. This of course, requires planning, strategy, capable leadership and popular support.
Greece’s conundrum resembles the Gordian knot. It appeared unsolvable until someone came along who thought out of the box.