Greece is in pre-election mode. You can smell it in the air. The gears of the state’s machinery, which have never been fast anyway, are grinding to a halt, along with the decision-making system. Elections are not too far off, experienced players in the broader public sector – who can already be heard claiming that they have no particular party affiliation, while being on the hunt for new friends and acquaintances – are hinting.
It will be a tough campaign. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has shown himself to have great stamina and few inhibitions. He should not be underestimated. Sure, things do not seem to have been going his way over the past few months. The government’s handling of the name issue with Skopje and its woeful response to the eastern Attica wildfires show that Murphy’s law is at play in Maximos Mansion as fatigue grows and judgement day nears.
A section of the electorate, however, still believes in the new vs old argument and feels that Tsipras can provide a safety net. There is certainly very little, if any, enthusiasm out there though. It all evaporated, together with SYRIZA’s claptrap about tearing up the bailout agreements and writing off the debt.
Indifference is the biggest threat that Tsipras faces, particularly among younger voters. The so-called “ENFIA voters,” middle-class citizens who migrated to the leftist party over its elusive pledge to scrap the unified property tax (and other similar promises), will not make the same mistake again. In view of this, Tsipras will go to any length to keep himself in the game. This means that he will try to consolidate SYRIZA’s status as the main alternative to the conservatives (in other words establish SYRIZA as the new PASOK) and from there on contrive a political comeback.
It’s hard to predict however how far he is prepared to go. The Europeans are likely to agree to a suspension of pension cuts in January but only if Tsipras gives up on certain benefits he had hoped to offer. Any attempt to portray this as a unilateral move at the Thessaloniki International Fair in September may be pivotal to developments. Financial markets will be looking out for any handouts, the undoing of reforms in the labor market (and other sectors) and potential pay hikes in the state and private sector.
All of this will take place in an atmosphere of polarization and scandal-mongering, meanwhile. New Democracy will have to avoid mistakes stemming from overconfidence. Some voters will need to be convinced that ND is not a reincarnation of its old self, while others that it will do more than just reduce taxes. A big section of the public understands the damage SYRIZA has inflicted on education, security and the state apparatus, and will almost certainly vote for ND. However, the conservatives will also need the support of those who question whether it really represents something new, and whether it is prepared to shake things up.