What makes the September 20 elections different from others is that it’s not really clear what Greeks are voting about. In other words, whichever government emerges, in whatever form, will have a duty to implement the third bailout deal that was ratified in Parliament by the majority of SYRIZA, New Democracy, Potami and PASOK. The likelihood of some of its terms being renegotiated is almost nil, both because time is running out and because Greece’s lenders are in no mood to have yet another discussion on prior actions.
This should make for a calm pre-election period. Instead, the tone is getting coarser the closer September 20 gets and the gap wider between what politicians are saying and what they would have to do if they did make it into government.
Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras is at the vanguard of an election battle without the support of SYRIZA’s core. He is basically alone and actually hopes to win the elections alone and exclusively after having repeatedly overruled participating in a government with “systemic” parties.
It is true that what Tsipras took over from the previous government of Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos was a bomb waiting to go off. He managed to avert an explosion that would have led to the country’s complete destruction by agreeing, in the final hour, an agreement that included the issues which had been swept under the carpet by a succession of governments in the past five years. But this third memorandum, which comes right on top two extremely grueling bailout packages, is also a very powerful ticking bomb and time is running out. Tsipras should be pleased to allow someone else to implement the agreement. It would give him to time to form a proper party rather than lead a group of unruly politicians. He has opted, instead, to battle it out to the death simply so he can hold on to his power.
The new president of New Democracy, Evangelos Meimarakis, also needs to reform his party and reform the center right, but he has been placed at the head of a battle in which there is some danger he may actually win. Few party leaders in Greece have had to face such a complex situation, and this at a time when the European establishment appears to prefer, for reasons of stability, a “rationalized” left in power in Athens rather than seeing it in the opposition again.
The effort to turn SYRIZA into a systemic party from a revolutionary one has come at an enormous cost not just for Tsipras but for the country as well, partly because New Democracy didn’t have the time it needed to reinvent itself. The result of the elections will now show us whether Greece is headed straight to the extremes.