Syriza’s victory in the Greek snap election is remarkable. After all, it followed a catastrophic seven months in power that saw Greece almost exit the euro, the Greek economy plunge back into recession, the imposition of capital controls following a practically meaningless and divisive referendum, and the signing of a third bailout programme last August – which effectively contradicted the platform on which Syriza initially came to power.
And yet, Alexis Tsipras’s party has been re-elected with almost the same proportion of the vote it secured in his first electoral victory in January 2015 and the same slim majority in coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL).
Where do Syriza and Greece go from here? By signing the third Greek bailout programme in August, the country is committed to a large number of fiscal measures and structural reforms aimed towards increasing competition and flexibility in the country’s goods, services and labour market. Any mainstream economist will agree that these reforms are necessary if the Greek economy is to resume a path towards sustainable growth and job creation.
Nevertheless, a smaller public sector and increased market competition coupled with deregulation is exactly the opposite of what Syriza ideologically stands for. They are also in direct contrast to the vested interests of those lobby groups who have been Syriza’s staunchest supporters such as public sector trade unions, state-owned enterprises and closed professions, ranging from doctors and lawyers to pharmacy-owners and taxi drivers. There’s also a strong risk that the bailout’s success will be undermined.
Since signing the new agreement, Tsipras has repeatedly knocked its prospects. He has stated that he personally does not believe in its ability to take Greece out of the crisis. He has also been joined by a number of high-profile Syriza officials who have expressed their opposition to many of its clauses such as the privatisation of Greece’s state-owned ports and airports.
Then there’s the coalition’s record in their first (albeit short) term in office. Their handling of other key areas such as education, healthcare, tax collection and the refugee crisis raises serious question marks regarding the coalition’s ability to govern effectively.
These are set to become even more acute in light of the economic deterioration expected in the forthcoming months, when the fallout from the imposition of capital controls and the new bailout’s measures are likely to be felt in the form of a deepened recession, higher unemployment and increased tax bills.
As the dust from Syriza’s latest electoral victory settles, the picture emerging is one of a government having to implement a policy in which it does not believe. Not to mention its slim parliamentary majority and the fact that it is relying on political personnel of unproven executive record, within an increasingly challenging economic and social environment. And, as the outcome of the recent showdown with Greece’s European partners showed, very limited leverage in the European political arena.
This outlook is not conducive toward restoring predictability and confidence in Greek politics or the country’s economic performance – necessary prerequisites for Greece to return to the path of economic recovery it seemed to be on a year ago
Tsipras has so far proved to be a brilliant tactician in terms of forcing and winning elections. Whether, however, he is an equally brilliant strategist in office, is open to question. The impression one gets from examining his moves is that he keeps asking the Greek voters to hand him electoral victories he does not know what to do with. This is because from the very beginning, his Achilles’ heel has been, and continues to be, the lack of a credible growth plan – and winning elections does not, on its own, produce one.
It can only be hoped that Tsipras’s latest electoral triumph will bring a break with Syriza’s economic idées fixe, in the same way that he broke with the extreme left wing of his party in August. If he manages to do so, both he, his party, but most importantly Greece, stand to gain enormously. If not, then the next Greek election may not be too far away.