COMMENT

SYRIZA's conundrum

By Alexis Papachelas

A veteran politician was telling me recently how a prime minister’s biggest concern should be whether there is anyone who really wants to replace him. He wasn’t wrong. I can’t imagine a more difficult job than being prime minister of Greece right now and having to push through the memorandum.

Greece is a country with many particularities and one whose prime minister often has to deal with issues that would never even reach a minister’s desk in other countries. The chances of burning out – fast and in spectacular fashion – are as huge as the chances of ever hearing a word of praise or thanks are slight.

I have often wondered what opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras really wants and what he has in mind. Behind closed doors, he apparently gives the impression that he is in no rush to take over the governance of the country and that he wants the government to succeed in stabilizing the economy. When speaking in public, however, he is all eagerness to get to the top and to take over.

The truth is that it is nearly impossible to find an action or a statement in which he appears to be supporting the government or be making any concessions on important issues such as, say, privatizations, a big planned investment or a draft law linked to the terms of the bailout agreement. Tsipras knows that his public stance has contributed to the unstable investment environment, but he cannot appear to shift from his positions because he knows that the hard-liners in his party will accuse him of selling out.

So far, SYRIZA has failed to prove that it has serious front-line politicians who could run the country tomorrow if need be or that it even has a plan for doing so should the opportunity arise. With few shining exceptions, the very frequent appearances of certain SYRIZA deputies and officials do more harm than good as they give the impression that the leftist party is made up of angry clansmen.

On the other hand, Tsipras’s trips to Berlin and Washington are a good thing, not because he is opening a new chapter in bilateral relations, but because they give him an opportunity to see the hard world of international politics first hand. Maybe the head of SYRIZA knows that he is in a race with the economy given that if a turnaround comes faster for the country, his chances of becoming prime minister will be dramatically reduced.

For the time being, though, his stance, the tone taken by the party’s officials and the constant reactions, are not helping.

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