Syriza Wins Greece Vote, Seals Coalition Deal

Syriza Wins Greece Vote, Seals Coalition Deal
Syriza Wins Greece Vote, Seals Coalition Deal

Greece’s left-wing party Syriza vowing to end the country’s austerity program won a historic victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, setting up a showdown with the country’s international creditors that could shake the eurozone.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the communist-rooted Syriza party, immediately promised to end what he called “five years of humiliation and pain” that Greece has endured since an international bailout saved it from bankruptcy in 2010.

“The verdict of the Greek people ends, beyond any doubt, the vicious circle of austerity in our country,” Tsipras told a crowd of rapturous flag-waving supporters, AP said in a report.

Syriza appeared just shy of the majority that would allow it to govern alone. With 99.8 percent of polling stations counted, Syriza had 36.3 percent — and 149 of parliament’s 300 seats — versus 27.8 percent for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservatives. The far-right Golden Dawn party was third with 6.2 percent and the centre-left To Potami fourth with 6.1 percent.

Samaras soon conceded defeat Sunday, saying he had received a country “on the brink of disaster” when he took over in 2012 and was close to ushering it out of the crisis. “I was asked to hold live coals in my hands and I did,” he said.

If Tsipras, 40, can put together a government, he will be Greece’s youngest prime minister in 150 years, while Syriza would be the first radical left party to ever govern the country.

The prospect of an anti-bailout government coming to power in Greece has revived fears of a bankruptcy that could reverberate across the eurozone, send shockwaves through global markets and undermine the euro, the currency shared by 19 European countries.

Syriza’s rhetoric appealed to many in a country that has seen a quarter of its economy wiped out, unemployment above 25 percent and average income losses of at least 30 percent.

Tsipras won on promises to demand debt forgiveness and renegotiate the terms of Greece’s $270 billion bailout, which has kept the debt-ridden country afloat since mid-2010.

To qualify for the cash, Greece has had to impose deep cuts in public spending, wages and pensions, along with public sector layoffs and repeated tax increases.

Syriza’s victory is expected to encourage other anti-austerity forces in Europe, which are calling for a move away from the focus on budget belt-tightening and structural reform favored by Berlin.

  Surprise Coalition

Fresh from trouncing conservative Prime Minister Samaras on a campaign of “Hope is coming”, Tsipras quickly sealed a deal on a coalition with the head of the right-wing Independent Greeks party which, like Syriza, opposes Greece’s bailout deal.

“From this moment there is a government in the country. The Independent Greeks give a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. There is an agreement in principle,” head of the Independent Greeks Panos Kammenos said after talks with Tsipras at Syriza’s headquarters in Athens.

A deal with the right-wing party makes an unusual alliance between parties on the opposite end of the political spectrum but brought together by a similar cause against the EU/IMF bailout program keeping Greece afloat.

  Collision Course

Reactions in Europe to the victory of anti-austerity party Syriza suggest that Greece is on a “collision course” with the rest of the bloc.

Speaking on German radio on Monday, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he had already spoken with Tsipras on the phone. Schulz said Greece could not expect far-reaching financial concessions from its European partners. He doubted that Greece would leave the Eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the new Greek government to uphold its commitments to international creditors. “In our view it is important for the new government to take action to foster Greece’s continued economic recovery,” Merkel’s spokesperson said. “That also means Greece sticking to its previous commitments.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the Syriza victory will “increase economic uncertainty across Europe,” as British left-wingers celebrated. He said on Twitter:

Tsipras’ victory made front page headlines on newspapers around Europe. Germany’s Der Spiegel online edition said the result had made investors in Asia “nervous” but said that “Tsipras deserves his chance.”

In France, the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper said the victory was a bolt of lightning for Europe and presented the bloc with a major challenge. Britain’s Independent newspaper website said Syriza and the EU were on a “collision course.”