10th Dec 2019

Tsipras calls early elections to boost mandate

  • Tsipras (c) became PM after elections on 25 January (Photo: Daniele Vico)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras resigned on Thursday (20 August), prompting snap elections in a move to out-play the opposition in his own left-wing Syriza party, which has, de facto, wiped out his parliamentary majority.

In a televised speech to the nation on Thursday evening, he said he needs a new mandate from the Greek people and a stable government to implement reforms.

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No date has been set for the elections, but 20 September is said to be likely by Greek media, citing government sources.

Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Reuters that he hopes the new elections would not delay or derail the bailout package which Athens has negotiated with its creditors.

"It is crucial that Greece maintains its commitments to the eurozone”, he said.

“Swift elections in Greece can be a way to broaden support for the ESM programme just signed by PM Tsipras on behalf of Greece”, Martin Selmayr, a senior European Commission official said on Twitter, referring to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an EU anti-crisis fund.

Tsipras' announcement came the same day the ESM paid Greece the first €23 billion tranche of its third eurozone bailout.

With the fresh money, Greece was able to repay a €3.2 billion debt to the European Central Bank and to avoid a messy default.

Referendum on Tsipras?

The Greek election amounts to a referendum on the 41-year-old Tsipras and his bailout deal.

The overall package is worth up to €86 billion over three years and was agreed on 13 July at an extraordinary eurozone summit in Brussels.

After 18 hours of negotiations, culminating six months of wider talks, Tsipras obliged Greece to accept painful reforms and privatisations in return for staying in the euro.

The deal came despite a Greek referendum in which people voted No to more austerity.

It has caused a split in Tsipras’ ruling Syriza Party, with 32 Syriza members voting against the package and with 11 of them abstaining in a Greek parliament vote earlier this month.

The voting reduced Tsipras’ strength to just 118 seats votes in the 300-member assembly.

The Left Platform, a new Syriza faction formed last week and headed by former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, announced on Thursday it will run in the upcoming elections on its own list.

Seven months in the eye of the storm

Tspiras became prime minister of Greece after elections on 25 January and has held the post for less than seven months.

His time in office has however been one of the most dramatic periods in EU history, with Greece constantly in headlines amid speculation the eurozone could see its first-ever exit.

"The political mandate of the 25 January elections has exhausted its limits and now the Greek people have to have their say”, Tsipras said on Thursday.

"I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the [bailout] agreement we expected before the January elections”.

Support for Syriza stood at around 35 percent in July and it is still, by far, the most popular party. But it needs a coalition partner to retain power after the elections.

By holding a snap vote before the painful EU reforms are carried out, Tsipras may still profit from his personal 60 percent approval rating.

After the TV announcement, he went to Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos to submit his resignation.

The Greek constitution grants the leaders of the largest three parties up to three days each to try to form a government.

If they fail to do so or decide not to use their right, then a caretaker prime minister will be appointed to serve until the elections are over. This will be the head of the supreme court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christofilou.

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