Varoufakis, Kotzias and the dwindling ‘progressive army’

Varoufakis, Kotzias and the dwindling ‘progressive army’

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been blindsided and thrown completely off his game plan. His narrative of a “progressive army” and a fresh rally of forces for elections “that will determine the future” is coming under constant attack. The Progressive Alliance was intended to move SYRIZA closer to the center so that it could resonate more strongly with the broader “progressive” section of voters – though what constitutes progressive and conservative in today’s world is a matter of debate – and to more fully acquire the characteristics of one of the two pillars of the two-party system, pushing center-left Movement for Change to the sidelines.

Tsipras’ plan, however, has been scuppered by two developments in the broader area of the Left, which are of significant symbolic importance and may affect the balance of power. What he hopes to achieve in the next few weeks is to convince many of the voters who chose not to vote in the European elections and who are mainly former supporters of SYRIZA to return to the fold and put their weight behind the big battle against the “socially insensitive, neoliberal” Kyriakos Mitsotakis of the opposition New Democracy party.

His path in this ambitious plan, however, is littered with obstacles. The first was the surprisingly strong performance of Yanis Varoufakis’ DiEM25 party in the European elections, which shook things up. There is now a party to the left of SYRIZA that is pro-European and has a leader with what a leftist voter might see as a convincing position. Moreover, he is neither Zoe Constantopoulou nor Panagiotis Lafazanis. He is a TV star who is in a position to boost his popularity thanks to his strong social media presence. It is also quite likely, if not certain, that he will make it into Parliament next month, and not just by scraping by with 3 percent.

You can say a lot about Varoufakis, but what is certain is that he represents the thinking of a significant portion of the people who voted for SYRIZA in January 2015. He exercises charm over this portion of voters, and this is something that will be evident at the polls.

Meanwhile, another obstacle was plonked on Tsipras’ re-election path on Wednesday. Former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias announced that he will not run on the ruling party’s ticket and that his Pratto movement will not cooperate with SYRIZA. This rift represents a blow to the prime minister both symbolically and in terms of votes. His foreign minister of four years and the architect of the Prespes name deal, which – like it or not, and this again is another discussion – has become intrinsically associated with SYRIZA, is no longer in the game. He will not play. He will not form part of the “army.”

SYRIZA’s preferred narrative is that the European elections were not that important, were simply a means of sending a message, and that the abstainers will come back for the big confrontation. That narrative has been badly hit by the serious likelihood of Varoufakis entering Parliament and Kotzias’ defection. Apart from the obvious symbolic element, these developments will also have an impact on the ballot box. Varoufakis and Kotzias may not have a huge number of supporters but their loss will take a toll on SYRIZA’s total, diminishing the percentage it hopes to receive on July 7.

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