Six days before Greeks go to the second round of elections this year, the two key players in the race – SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and conservative New Democracy chief Evangelos Meimarakis – went head-to-head in a live televised debate on Monday, clashing on issues ranging from corruption to the best way of securing debt relief.
In a lively, and often tense, debate that lasted several hours, Tsipras and Meimarakis sought to convince thousands of undecided voters that their party is more capable than the other to lead Greece’s next government.
Questioned about potential alliances, Tsipras insisted that he believed SYRIZA would win an overall majority but that he would otherwise be prepared to form a “progressive” coalition. He ruled out an “unnatural” alliance with ND, saying, “We have radical differences on key issues.” “I will try to create the necessary broader consensus so there can be a government,” he said.
Meimarakis, for his part, struck a very different tone, saying he wanted to reach agreement on common policy with Tsipras, with each party retaining its independence. He proposed the creation of a “national negotiating team” to hammer out a plan for the country’s future, noting that Greeks want to see cooperation.
If ND comes first, and secures the 50-seat bonus, Meimarakis said he would choose a cabinet with “the guts” to implement the third memorandum.
The two leaders clashed over corruption. Linking the conservatives to a string of corruption scandals, Tsipras noted that SYRIZA resumed an investigation into the Lagarde list. Meimarakis suggested that there were political reasons for the resumption of the probe.
He rebuffed accusations of corruption, saying SYRIZA took no action to tackle corruption despite its pledges to clash with oligarchs.
There were also vehement exchanges between the leaders over their parties’ record while in power. Tsipras rejected claims by Meimarakis that the SYRIZA-led coalition destroyed the economy, dismissing the ND leader’s reasoning as that of “a person who drinks three bottles of whiskey and a shot, wakes up in hospital the next day, and blames the shot.”
Meimarakis hit back at Tsipras, accusing him of forgetfulness and confusion. “He changed character the moment he signed the memorandum,” Meimarakis said of the former premier.
The issue of debt, and how to secure its lightening, was another point of dispute, with Meimarakis criticizing SYRIZA for insisting that Greece’s debt is unsustainable when the sustainability of debt is a prerequisite for creditors to lighten it.
The leaders sparred over the thorny issue of immigration too. According to Meimarakis, SYRIZA’s policies encouraged refugees to come to Greece. Tsipras insisted that the migration crisis is “complex” and condemned Meimarakis for using the term “illegal immigrants” when many of those arriving on Greece’s islands are refugees fleeing war.