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Alexis Tsipras: Greece’s leftist firefighter is gaining steam


The sudden emergence of Alexis Tsipras as a radical leftist arsonist was a poignant moment for the entire EU and brought Greece to the brink of an exit from the euro.

Eight years later, the former political iconoclast faces a more mundane challenge: to save his Syriza party from the disgrace of being replaced as Greece’s main opposition party.

Tsipras, who steadily moved towards the center during his 2015-2019 premiership, is now fighting to save his career after Syriza’s vote share crashed by more than 10 percent in the May 21 election. He acknowledged that the result was “unexpected and painful”, especially for an opposition party during a cost-of-living crunch.

With a new election on June 25, Syriza’s arch rival from the centre-left is now trying to extend its lead. Pasok, an established party that dominated Greek politics before the financial crisis, will try to catch up with Tsipras and restore its leading role in the Hellenic parliament after increasing its vote share in recent elections by 3 percent.

Tsipras’ battle for relevance reflects broader shifts in Greek politics as Europe’s financial badboy has repaired its economy to return to one of the fastest growth rates in the Eurozone. Greek voters seem eager to move on – and jettison the politician who once epitomized the defiance of the rescue years.

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To make matters worse for Tsipras, the ruling New Democracy party won more votes than it did four years ago, seemingly breaking the norm of Greek politics. The result assured Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that he would get a majority government if he called new elections within a month.

Perhaps the only consolation: the party led by Tsipras’ estranged political partner Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister who took on Germany during the crisis, came out of the election with an even more dismal result, falling short of the 3 percent threshold was required to join the Greek Parliament. After his brief stint as minister, Varoufakis left Syriza and formed his own party, MeRA25, which recently campaigned for the introduction of a digital payment system named “Dimitra” after the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture. The voters were not convinced.

Yanis Varoufakis

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ party failed to make it to parliament © Sypros Bakalis/AFP/Getty Images

Analysts placed the blame for Syriza’s poor performance squarely on Tsipras’ court, citing his failure to adapt his rhetoric to Greece’s new realities.

Tsipras “made no real policy proposal and failed to win over his own constituents,” said Stella Ladi, an associate professor at Queen Mary University in London.

By contrast, New Democracy’s message was positive, emphasizing that it would create stability and move the country forward, said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of political risk at consulting firm Teneo. Mitsotakis “felt the public wanted an end to this toxic era of debt crisis politics,” he added.

“Syriza was a child of crisis and failed to outgrow it,” said Stathis Kalyvas, Gladstone Professor of Government at Oxford University.

During the campaign, Syriza invoked the polarized rhetoric of the decade-long economic collapse, claiming that small and medium-sized businesses are “drowning in debt” and that “young men and women are seeing their dreams crushed” as hundreds of thousands of households face repossession .

But the messages rang hollow. “Greece was beyond that,” said Kalyvas.

In contrast, Mitsotakis’s government, embroiled in its own series of scandals, including the wiretapping of Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis, managed to shrug off the allegations and stay afloat. The new election will take place under a different electoral law that is likely to give the prime minister’s party a bonus of up to 50 parliamentary seats, enough to allow him to rule alone.

“People noticed there was a sense of crisis management that was missing in the economic crisis years and voted for someone who promised more predictability in their lives,” says Kalyvas.

Tsipras has promised to stay on for the time being, despite taking personal responsibility for the poor election result. “We are responsible for the citizens who did not vote for us,” he said at the first party meeting after the election.

But some say it will be difficult to maintain its position if Syriza’s vote share falls further.

“Syriza is very associated with Tsipras,” said Kalyvas, as he was the one who led the party from marginal obscurity to power. “At the same time, he is seen as a political loser. This is fatal for politics.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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