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.