Time can play strange games with us, swinging between generosity and stinginess, in an instant. In Greece today, even as the country faces tough deadlines in the effort to revive its economy, the political system finds itself with a rare luxury – plenty of time before the next elections. Economic pressures, however, will determine what happens in our politics, as they demand quick and radical changes to our parties and political mentality.
Seldom has our political system been given so much time in which to carry out a very necessary reorganization. The next scheduled elections are in 2019 – for local government and for the European Parliament. Presidential elections are in 2020. After last month’s national elections, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has a mandate until late 2019. Theoretically, this should allow him to carry out measures without worrying about the immediate political cost. This allows time for reforms to begin working so as to offset their cost. It also gives opposition parties the opportunity to reorganize themselves, to elect new leaders and shape new programs and alliances; it allows new parties to emerge. It has been clear for years that the political system needs renewal – but elections (and an inexplicable referendum) kept getting in the way not only of change but even the basics of government.
This leeway, however, is offset by pressure on the economic front. By Monday, the government must reach agreement with its eurozone partners on 40 or so measures that must be implemented within October so that Greece can receive 2 billion euros, the first tranche of a new 83-billion-euro loan. Also, the first evaluation of Greece’s efforts by creditors must be completed in time for banks to be recapitalized by the end of the year so as to avoid a bail-in. The other cruel challenge is that the economy has to recover more than a decade of lost ground, as a result of the impasse which it reached in 2009, the failure of the previous two bailouts to set it back on its feet, and the damage caused by the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government’s disastrous brinkmanship this year.
In 2014, before SYRIZA’s election, gross domestic product and average family incomes had fallen back to 2003 levels. Private bank deposits, too, are where they were 12 years ago. The impact of the capital controls imposed this year is still not clear but is certain to be disastrous. The longer the situation remains unstable, the greater the economic cost will be. Consequently, the social and political cost will be even greater than it is now.
With so much pressure for immediate change, and with so much time to deal with it, Tsipras has no more excuses to avoid governing, and the opposition parties have the opportunity to restructure and to develop policies that will provide viable alternatives to what voters were offered in the past and which brought us to this mess. Time waits for no one, but at this moment it could be our ally.