Is Greece heading for another election? Nobody in their right minds wants that to happen, but again, right minds are not very easy to find in the country today.
The SYRIZA government certainly doesn’t want a new election, as it is almost certain that it will lose, thus reducing the ‘first-time left’ governance to a sad, tumultuous parenthesis in Greek politics. The opposition, for all its talk, certainly doesn’t want an election, as it has every reason in the world to wait until (a) the economy is better and (b) Alexis Tripras’ approval ratings go even lower, in order to reap the benefits, avoiding the ‘hot potato’ of implementing itself the harsh measures included in the latest version of the memorandum.
And yet, Tsipras gave what should account as a pre-election speech on Tuesday, while visiting the small border island of Nisyros, dismissing as “foolish technocrats” those who oppose his government’s decision to use the budget surplus to offer a one-time Christmas bonus to hard-hit pensioners on the lower side of the income spectrum.
After this brash attack on the critique of the IMF and the other lenders, he went on to promise tax breaks to the residents of the islands that have to deal with the wave of refugees from Turkey, exempting them from the Value Added Tax.
For all his bellicose rhetoric and election-like promises, his speech gained attention mostly for the surprising expression of affection towards his partner in government, leader of the right wing ‘Independent Greeks’ party, Panos Kammenos. Describing how, being a ‘leftist fighter’ he had dismissed Kammenos as an entitled right-wing ‘wuss’, he then praised him for his political acumen.
The Greek people’s response to this public display of affection was a kind of collective “get a room”, shouted at their TV screens, but for the PM this was probably an opportunity to practice his wooing skills, before his Friday meeting with Angela Merkel in Berlin.
The German chancellor might have bigger problems to face, as Donald Trump’s victory resulted in her being handed the mantle of ‘Leader of the Free World’, a role she has to put on hold for a while, in order to tend to the needs of the two men fighting for her affections: Tsipras, and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble. The latter is, predictably, the sole (but very large) obstacle in Tsipras’ not-as-ambitious-as-it-sounds social policy.
And yet, Greece is, once again, facing a freeze on the much-needed package of debt relief measures, as its creditors expressed concerns for this payout to pensioners, deeming it as contrary to the terms of the bailout agreement signed in 2015.
Not everyone thinks so; both French President Francois Hollande and Financial Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici expressed support for Greece, the latter stating: “We think the decision taken on debt relief is robust, was taken on the basis of Greece’s compliance with the first review, and therefore there is no reason to question it.” He then went on to imply that “only one country” raised an issue with Greece’s policy announcement.
Which brings us to the first question. The only person who is in a position to push for elections in Greece is the German finance minister. But even he should agree that it may be difficult to find a government that would impose austerity with the zeal that Tsipras has.
This, in fact, has been the main trait of the self-proclaimed-leftist government. That it can impose policies that otherwise would never be palatable. It is no wonder that the opposition did not even dispute the pension handouts, voting ‘present’ in the parliament, in what was otherwise a fiery session that had MPs engaging in the mandatory, verbal abuse that is now part of the parliamentary protocol.
It is all wordplay. As was the recent remark of Kostas Zouraris. Among the noise that dominates public discussion, the flamboyant intellectual, recently appointed deputy minister of education, all but stated that Greece can pretty much afford to lose an island or two to Turkey.
Coming out of anyone else’s mouth, this remark would have caused an uproar. Now, it all blew out quickly. At this point, we’re used to empty statements and nonsense.