Drachma revolt adds unease to Greece’s awkward alliance


Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' power-sharing acrobatics look harder to perform by the day.

Opposition parties are propping up his left-wing government long enough to negotiate a new bailout and keep the country in the eurozone, while senior members of his own party, SYRIZA, have revived a campaign to bring back the drachma.

On Thursday, lead bailout negotiators are due in Athens. They will intensify a new round of talks for a massive third rescue package after Athens and lenders from other eurozone countries reached a bitterly fought compromise.

But Tsipras has a more pressing priority. He will be battling to keep control of Syriza at a meeting of the party's 200-member executive, facing dissenters who argue the Left has abandoned its principles over the past six months under the country's popular prime minister.

The uncertainty has renewed questions over whether Greece can – or should – endure two more years of austerity and bailout policies that have battered its economy and the political parties that implemented them.

“Tsipras doesn't have many options,” said Dimitri A. Sotiropoulos, an associate professor of political science at the University of Athens, who sees a snap election in November as a strong possibility.

“One is to strengthen his position in his party … but he is not fond of seeking confrontation,” he said. “The other is to call an early election. The timing is sensitive: It would have to be after the bailout talks are concluded, but before opposition parties can regroup.”

In a vote three weeks ago, Tsipras effectively lost his majority in parliament, when nearly one-fourth of SYRIZA’s lawmakers refused to back new austerity measures. Pro-European Union opposition parties were left to save the bill.

Since then, far-left dissenters have grown more defiant.

Panagiotis Lafazanis, recently fired as energy minister in a reshuffle, called on the government and country to prepare for a national currency.

“An exit from the euro … in spite of all the dark propaganda, would in no way be a disaster,” he told cheering supporters packed into an Athens theater this week, celebrating five years since the launch of his political website “Iskra” –  a name inspired by the Bolshevik underground newspaper once run by Vladimir Lenin.

Fully named the Coalition of the Radical Left, SYRIZA was formed as an alliance that eventually included about a dozen left-wing and anti-establishment groups who voted to become a unified party in 2013.

Before Thursday's party executive meeting, Tsipras acknowledged that SYRIZA was still adapting to becoming a party of government.

“We must admit that SYRIZA has not become a unified party,” he said in a two-hour radio interview Wednesday.

“It's been described as a violent maturing process: SYRIZA went from a party that received 4 percent (in past elections) to one that now carries the hopes of the majority of the Greek people.”

The 40-year-old Tsipras, despite the looming hardship for Greeks, has increased SYRIZA’s lead in opinion polls since the January general election. He wants to hold a party conference after the bailout negotiations while dissenters want one immediately.

At the moment, said Athens University's Sotiropoulos, a party split still looks unlikely.

“Being in power has a binding effect … and (dissenters) will not want to be held responsible for a break up,” he said, before adding: “But ideology and emotion remain strong forces in Greek politics. And that can lead to the wrong decisions.”