SYRIZA’s win will test institutions

Greece was at an impasse, with a government that did not believe in what it was doing and an opposition that declared with passionate intensity that whatever the government did was wrong and that it would do everything right – it would share out money, annul agreements with our creditors and, at the same time, would not endanger Greece’s membership of the eurozone and the European Union. Naturally, many voters opted for utopia.

From today SYRIZA will have to face the test of reality. The party is obliged to manage the economy, keeping its promises as the treasury runs out of money, but will also have to deal with our partners and creditors, who have made clear their position that Greece must abide by its commitments. SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’s statement that the electoral result annuls the memoranda and that the troika of creditors is no longer valid is a direct challenge to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The only way to avoid a collision is if one of the two sides blinks. Time is of the essence and it is very difficult to believe that our creditors will be the first to back down because they will pity the Greeks if our problems get worse.

The challenges that Greece faces on the domestic front are just as serious. The economic problem is great, but it is a symptom of more severe problems. Our economy is at a dead end, and previous governments fell, because productivity, competitiveness and people’s daily lives are undermined by a terrible public administration, by the pervading sense of injustice and corruption, by the conviction that politicians place their interests above the common good. Politics and the economy were tangled up in a fatal dance in which each partner lead the other to disaster.

The wave of rage and indignation, the birth of hope for any alternative, benefited SYRIZA, which exploited the situation masterfully, gaining votes from across most of the political spectrum. The same heterogenous wave, however, can destroy the next government, too, if it avoids reforms which will strengthen institutions, improve the public administration and establish an effective and just economy which will confirm the promise of hope. Relations between SYRIZA and institutions (the Church, the judiciary, the security services, and so on), are crucial to the future of the government, keeping the country running smoothly at a difficult time.

SYRIZA pushed very hard for elections and for the chance to gain power. Its victory was achieved in a climate of severe polarization and was based on the anger of people who had lost income and jobs, on fatigue over endless austerity, and on the hope that perhaps the radical left could deliver on its promises. When the new government goes to our partners and waves in their face the message that democracy is more powerful than agreements, it will do well to remember that the factors which brought it to power will bring it crashing down if it does not succeed where others failed. This applies to domestic challenges as well as relations with our foreign partners and creditors.