What were the takeaways from the recent SYRIZA congress? First, that the leader of the main opposition party, Alexis Tsipras, is not going anywhere, after some seven in 10 participants voted in favor of all his proposals and considered no one else for the role. And second, that there is no central narrative regarding the party’s future, apart from the goal of power. The rest was a hodgepodge of nothing, with a heavy sprinkling of populism from Pavlos Polakis, with his enduring popularity among anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
Anyone who thought there would be some serious discussion for a turn toward the center, as pledged by Tsipras after the party’s defeat in 2019, was sadly disappointed. The only debates we saw concerned seating and protocol. Beyond the obvious dispute between those party cadres that want to turn SYRIZA into a newfangled PASOK – without an Andreas Papandreou, a Kostas Simitis or an Evangelos Venizelos to do so – and the others who hope to keep the party firmly behind leftist lines, nothing else was discussed. Not a single fresh thought or idea was heard.
Is this a party that can convince centrist voters to leave New Democracy, shut out PASOK and turn to SYRIZA? Not likely.
SYRIZA managed to climb to power in 2015 because of the extreme situation the country found itself in, bankrupt and under foreign economic supervision. Anti-systemic populism had given some voters the nudge to take a dive into the unknown in their desperation – only to find themselves looking at shuttered banks, a new memorandum, the specter of Grexit and the country sliding downhill for another three years. Some thought Tsipras would use the four-day congress that ended on Sunday to take stock of the mistakes made during the insane negotiation with creditors in 2015. He didn’t have the guts.
Under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, there is little fear of a new memorandum. Yes, he did spend 40 billion euros to prop up society in the first two years of the pandemic and now he’s handing out around 500 million euros a month in energy subsidies to offset inflation, but he’s keeping a very close eye on the expense book and constantly looking for funds from Europe. And yes, uncertainty is back among citizens, providing fertile ground for anti-European populism. But no one will be playing the country’s fate in a crapshoot again – certainly not after the last time.