Sunday

4th Dec 2022

The irreversible downfall of Alexis Tsipras

  • Alexis Tsipras is doomed to fail, whether he is the winner or loser in Sunday's Greek elections (Photo: europar.europa.eu)

Whatever the outcome of the upcoming election in Greece, there is already one big loser - Alexis Tsipras. Even if Tsipras does win, this will make his fall from grace even more spectacular and painful.

With the formerly firebrand leftist apparently relishing the support of Greece’s European partners and the markets, nothing seems able to stop the inevitable decline of the man whose meteoric rise only recently came to Europe's attention.

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  • In the 7-month period that he was Prime Minister, he was treated by his EU partners as a pariah for threatening the eurozone’s orthodoxy. (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

It is rather unusual to call a candidate’s loss before an election takes place. But in the case of this Greek election, the result is beside the point.

In a perverse way, if Tsipras wins, things could go even worse for him.

A political cartoon by Elias Makris, published in Kathimerini, a conservative daily, shows Tsipras waking up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat: “I had a nightmare” he says. “What was it about?” asks his half-asleep wife. “I was re-elected”.

When Syriza went to a snap election in August, most pundits and analysts, still under the spell of Tsipras’s charisma, predicted a landslide victory.

A few months earlier he had won with an 8-point lead over the conservative New Democracy. Tsipras's own ratings were still high despite the U-turn; signing off on a tough bailout deal shortly after calling a referendum, asking people to vote against it.

The main opposition party was in tatters, following two humiliating defeats. Its leader, Meimarakis, was an interim one and the internal opposition in Syriza was completely overtaken by Tsipras’s fast moves.

To be fair to Alexis Tsipras, his hands were tied.

In the 7-month period that he was Prime Minister, he was treated by his EU partners as a pariah for threatening the eurozone’s orthodoxy.

The message was clear: either you surrender or we force you out of office.

As early as April 2015, EU officials had expressed their wish that Tsipras would “ditch” the radicals inside his party. What they asked for was that Syriza, in the space of a few months, would be transformed from a coalition of the radical left - as its name suggests - to a centrist party keen on privatisations, austerity and liberal reforms.

For months, Greece defied the creditors' demands and the creditors refused to provide Greece with any funds.

From August 2014 to July 2015, Greece became one in probably only a handful of countries in the world to survive on no external financing at all.

In the end, the imposition of capital controls showed that the creditors were not firing off empty threats. A desperate Tsipras opted for option 2: he surrendered.

In the months to come, any new Greek government will have to implement hundreds of measures, as dictated in the memorandum signed with the country’s creditors.

“Parallel program”?

Politically and morally undermined by the bailout agreement it was forced to sign, Syriza’s campaign is trying to shift attention to the domestic front ahead of Sunday’s polls.

In his speeches, Tsipras reminds his audience that his has been the first government to engage in a real negotiation; he accepted the only deal that would avert a disorderly Grexit, an option that most Greeks still don’t want.

His message is two-fold: both against his predecessors who were seen as blindly obliging to the creditors’ demands, and the defectors from his party, who are dreaming of a Greece outside the euro.

But his government’s record tells a different story.

Capital controls are still in place, making life hard for thousands of small or large businesses. The economy’s indicators are in a much worse situation than 8 months ago, when ND was in charge. And, even worse, the bailout agreed by Tsipras is more likely to provide Greece with the same medicine of austerity - a medicine that is doomed not to work, according to a consensus of international economists.

From the infamous Thessaloniki programme (Syriza’s manifesto ahead of the 2015 elections), there are barely any promises that have not been negated by tough reality.

Instead, a new Syriza government will have to implement more austerity, cuts to the welfare state and the pension system in exchange for more loans to the tune of billions to repay more debts, and the most ambitious privatisation programme ever – which for the leftists of Syriza represents a massive embarrassment.

Syriza pledges that it will promote a “parallel program” in order to compensate for the recessionary measures of the third bailout program. Is that possible?

The creditors’ representatives, including Moscovici and the German ministry of Finance, have made clear, in leaks and official statements, that there is neither room nor tolerance for further negotiation or change of the bailout’s terms.

Against the restoration of the old regime

As the usual anti-austerity rhetoric runs out of steam, Syriza is centering its campaign on another topic which, until a few days ago, was considered the Left’s privileged turf.

In his speeches, Tsipras tells his audience: “We vote no to the restoration of the old regime”. He renews his pledge to tackle endemic corruption and fight “the oligarchy”.

A most cunning argument.

New Democracy’s new leader; grey-haired, mustached Vangelis Meimarakis, almost twenty years older than flamboyant Tsipras, is seen by most as a relic of the old regime.

Meimarakis has his own skeletons in the closet. In his youth, according to an allegation adopted by Tsipras, he was a prominent member of a New Democracy semi-official group that was terrorising opponents with the telling name “Centaurus”. (Meimarakis has denied the allegation).

His record as minister of Defense also makes him a vulnerable target as he was implicated in the “submarines case”, a shady defense deal that cost Greece over 2 billion euros and involved more than 100 million euros in bribes. No formal investigation has been finalised against Meimarakis and no charges have been filed.

Flabouraris-gate

But just a week before the elections, a scandal involving Tsipras’s intimate guard threatens to tarnish the image of the 'clean hands' party.

Alekos Flambouraris, 77-year-old Minister of State in the recent Syriza government, and political mentor and father figure to Tsipras, was reportedly involved in a serious conflict of interest between his construction company bidding for state contracts and his position in the cabinet.

The answers provided by Mr. Flabouraris were considered not convincing enough, and in the days leading to Sunday’s polls the affair might cost crucial Syriza votes as news reports dig deeper into the case.

But Flambouraris-gate, as the press calls it, is the tree that hides the forest. The forest is Syriza’s repeated pledge to fight corruption and to destroy the rotten system of power that has been ruling Greece for decades – what Tsipras calls the Triangle of Sin, consisting of the banks, the media and the political world.

Syriza’s record so far on that front is impressively weak.

Firstly, none of their pre-electoral promises on corruption were kept. They had committed to a 6-month plan that would bring in billions in revenue from the fight against tax evasion and oil smuggling.

They promised to intensify judicial investigations of corruption-related cases involving politicians and businessmen. Before getting elected, they lambasted the banking system and its top managers for their “incestuous” ties to the above-mentioned Triangle of Sin.

Nothing of the sort happened. True, Syriza had a good excuse. They could not fight two fronts at once: one abroad with the country’s powerful creditors and one domestic against a system of power deeply entrenched in the country’s structures.

But now the negotiation is over. And there are more and more doubts regarding Syriza’s appetite to fight this system; there are even indications that Syriza has made peace with it in a way that is reminiscent of the “old regime”.

For example, there are no plans in the foreseeable future to tax the super-wealthy shipping community and the Church, both of whom enjoy an almost tax-free status.

And some of the country’s oligarchs who were until recently bashing Syriza through the media they own, now seem to have changed course and support Tsipras’s new bet.

In some cases, the doubts also have to do with the morphing of Tsipras into a leader that no longer is convincing as an outsider of the establishment.

It is also a matter of life-style.

The man who made headlines around the world with his disdain for ties and other establishment-related habits, decided this September to send his child to one of the elite private schools in downtown Athens at a time when public elementary schools, under the Syriza government, started the year with a shortage of thousands of teachers due to austerity-driven policies.

Earlier this summer, news reports claimed that Tsipras spent a part of his holiday in a villa owned by one of Greece's top shipowners. The reports were neither confirmed nor denied by the PM’s office.

If Syriza loses, Tsipras will obviously have lost his bet. But let us also ponder the scenario of an eventual Syriza win.

Election mathematics suggest that Syriza will not be able to form a majority government without the support of other parties.

Even if Independent Greeks, the right wing, anti-austerity party that served as Syriza’s junior coalition partner, make it to the parliament, they might still be a few seats short.

The final fig leaf

In the event of that scenario occurring, Tsipras will have to remove the final fig leaf: form a government with parties that symbolize the “old order”, team up with politicians that according to Tsipras should be held accountable for the current mess and even prosecuted and jailed for their involvement in corruption schemes.

Tsipras has shouted loud and clear “we want the majority so that we are not held hostages by the establishment and the ‘diaploki’” (the Greek term for the intertwined interests ruling Greece).

If this turns out to be the case after Sunday's election, Syriza will be a de facto hostage of those interests, since a majority is unlikely to happen.

The tougher and more unpopular the measures are that Tsipras has to take, the more his popularity will be on the wane, trapping him in a vicious circle.

In the end, Tsipras might have to resort to the same solution employed by his predecessors, to rule the country with the only support left, that of the forces he was supposed to fight: Greece’s creditors and Greece’s “triangle of sin” as he once used to call them.

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