I don’t think there is any other country in the Western world that discusses whether there will be elections so intensely and so frequently. In most countries, people tend to discuss politics only during campaign periods.
So when will elections be held in Greece? Alexis Tsipras, the country’s leftist prime minister, seems intent on delaying a vote as much as possible. The most likely scenario is that the country will hold parliamentary and municipal elections in the spring of 2019 – provided that no political accident, as it were, occurs before then. Tsipras appears to have ruled out the scenario of a 2018 ballot, ignoring calls to announce a snap vote before his government introduces fresh cuts to pensions in early 2019.
Tsipras obviously thinks that calling a premature election would allow Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the conservative opposition leader, to accuse him of seeking an escape route ahead of the impending austerity measures. Spin doctors at Maximos Mansion deem that the main casualties of the measures are already a lost cause (meaning that the main chunk have shifted to other parties), or never belonged to SYRIZA’s clientele to begin with.
Tsipras’s political strategy is based on the assumption that the economy will start to pick up, affecting the large reservoir of undecided voters. At the same time, the government hopes that the International Monetary Fund – or at least the hardliners of the Washington-based organization – will get out of the way, making it possible for the government to shy away from some of the agreed measures. But it is still too early – also for Tsipras – to have a clear picture. Unfortunately Greece is cut off from consultations over the formation of the new government in Berlin. We just have to wait and see what happens there.
Because this is Greece, however, we are bound to enter a campaign period from the early months of 2018, whether the government likes it or not. Street-level speculation will kick off and gradually affect ministers and political officials. The government will come under pressure to provide handouts and – more importantly – to scrap certain bailout measures and reforms. It will be very hard for the prime minister to resist the pressure. However, Tsipras’s reaction will affect the very crucial debate set to take place next summer about whether Greece can stand on its own feet, with access to the financial markets and some sort of post-bailout supervision. This will, after all, be the most important phase in the Greek debt saga since it broke.