Leftist SYRIZA, which leads Greece's ruling coalition, late on Thursday backed a proposal by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for an extraordinary party congress in September.
The move was approved by a significant majority of SYRIZA's central committee following a long and tense session.
A session of the party’s central committee which started at around noon ran late into the night as MPs and officials discussed how to address serious objections within the party to the prospect of further austerity. The options being discussed included a party referendum on whether the government should continue bailout talks with creditors and seal a deal, or a party congress.
ln a speech at the launch of the session, Tsipras made clear his preference would be for an emergency congress in September, after the government has finalized a deal with creditors in August. Party dissenters were said to favor an “ordinary” congress, which would involve existing members, rather than an extraordinary congress that would let Tsipras to bring in new delegates and capitalize on a recent increase in public support.
Speaking on the prospect of a possible referendum, Tsipras made it clear that a “no” vote would bring down the government. “The first left-wing government since World War II either gets the support of left-wing MPs or it falls because of left-wing MPs,” he said.
Tsipras defended his stance in negotiations with creditors, saying he had taken “difficult decisions” to keep the country solvent and “there was no better choice.” “If there is someone who thinks they could have achieved a better deal, let them come out and say so and explain what the terms would be,” he said.
Hitting out at dissenters now openly courting a drachma return, Tsipras said that a Greek eurozone exit without reserves to support a new currency “would have led to massive devaluation, harsh austerity and a return to the International Monetary Fund.”
He insisted that the government should not give up just six months into its term and should fight to secure “small victories” and persist, as the left is “the only guarantee of a progressive government.”
Already, SYRIZA had left its mark, he claimed. “We, a leftist government and a small country, created the first rifts in the neoliberal hegemony of Europe,” he said. He added that a party congress would give the leftists the chance to “offer a definitive answer to the question of whether a leftist government can survive in a liberal, conservative Europe.”
Among those who expressed serious objections were the outspoken dissenters Zoe Constantopoulou, the parliament speaker, and Left Platform leader and former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. The latter declared that Greece was living in “a euro dictatorship” and claimed there were some 35 billion euros in cash reserves that the government could use to finance a transition to a national currency.
Constantopoulou, for her part, lashed out at Tsipras for describing her behavior in Parliament as “surreal and childish” and said it was “inconceivable” that SYRIZA should implement “the exact opposite of its pre-election promises.”