Alexis Tsipras defended his track record in office ahead of this month’s elections, as Greek opposition leaders accused him of breaking promises to end austerity and fooling voters, during an often chaotic television debate on Wednesday evening.
“Certainly mistakes were made in the negotiation,” Tsipras said, referring to six turbulent months of wrangling with the country’s creditors, which pushed Greece to the verge of exiting the euro area. “Ultimately we chose what would be in the best interest of our people,” the 41-year-old leader of the SYRIZA party said, adding that “a better deal couldn’t be reached despite all of our efforts.”
As journalists reminded the former prime minister of his campaign pledges before last January’s election, the leader of Pasok opposition party, Fofi Gennimata, said Tsipras should be awarded the “Golden Raspberry” for economic policy. Evangelos Meimarakis, president of New Democracy, the biggest opposition party, said Tsipras burdened Greek taxpayers with an additional 90 billion euros ($101 billion) of debt through the new bailout agreement signed with the euro area, while he’s kicking investors out of the country.
Sept. 20 vote
About 9.8 million Greeks head to the polls for the third time this year on Sept. 20, after a parliamentary ballot which catapulted Tsipras to power in January, and a referendum in July over the austerity terms that creditors were demanding; that vote sparked a bank run and the imposition of capital controls. Surveys put Tsipras’s leftist SYRIZA party neck and neck with center-right New Democracy, while no one is projected to win an outright parliamentary majority.
Meimarakis reiterated calls for the two biggest parties to form a coalition to implement the agreed bailout measures, and he offered to visit Tsipras in his office on Thursday to discuss potential points of convergence. Tsipras, who has ruled out several times a unity government with New Democracy, wasn’t asked to respond on the same topic, as debate questions were structured along pre-determined policy themes, and interaction among the seven party leaders present was essentially barred.
“It was a series of short monologues with the camera focused on a single person only,” said Nicholas Economides, a professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “The crucial economic issues seemed to have been only touched at the surface.”
The new Greek bailout deal foresees lower primary budget surplus targets, saves Greeks 20 billion euros in belt- tightening measures and covers the country’s financing needs until 2019 at a very low interest rate of 1.5pct, Tsipras said. His former minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, now leader of the Popular Unity splinter party, quoted older reassurances by SYRIZA’s leader that he would “never sign” a memorandum of understanding with creditors.
The debate lasted three hours, during which a journalist tried to engage the leader of the Communist party in a discussion about Karl Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” and Tsipras’s former coalition partner Panos Kammenos accused Meimarakis of being involved in bribery scandals. Just before midnight, the discussion descended into chaos, with everyone speaking simultaneously.
Meimarakis, who warned that a potential SYRIZA government would be mired in internal dissent and drag the country to yet another election, will hold a bilateral debate with Tsipras on Sept. 14. New Democracy, along with Pasok and the River party, backed Tsipras’s agreement with euro-area states last month, when about a quarter of SYRIZA’s lawmakers revolted against his decision to capitulate to demands for more austerity, thus stripping him of a parliamentary majority and setting the stage for snap elections.