Alexis takes Athens

Alexis takes Athens

Tsipras gambled and won, convincingly. His biggest challenges lie ahead

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Alexis Tsipras the leader of left-wing Syriza party waves to his supporters after the election results at the party’s main electoral center in Athens, Sunday, September 20, 2015. (AP Photo)

With Syriza’s return to power, Greek voters have put their faith in Alexis Tsipras. He is their leader of choice to steer the country through negotiations with creditors. That the same coalition — Syriza and the rightwing Independent Greeks — is back in the saddle, eight months after elections had brought in the first radical left Syriza government, shouldn’t blind one to Tsipras’s electoral gamble after losing his majority in August. More than a third of far-left Syriza MPs had then revolted against his U-turn on austerity and acceptance of the new bailout conditions. None of those MPs has been re-elected, with their breakaway party failing to obtain a seat in the Hellenic Parliament.

For Tsipras, however, the harder battles lie ahead. The new government’s first challenge will be to convince creditors that Athens is meeting the terms of the latest package. That possibly implies still more austerity for Greeks, with further cuts in pensions and wages, doubling of income tax and scrapping of fuel subsidies for farmers. Tsipras will also have to work with the EU for recapitalising Greek banks and lifting capital controls. Other necessary reforms include privatising more than 50 per cent of the state electricity network. At the same time, Syriza’s seat share has fallen and its coalition now has a thin majority.

Unlike the July referendum in which voters rejected the eurozone’s bailout terms only to see Tsipras accept the same, this vote was not pointless. Tsipras won despite jettisoning Syriza’s original agenda. Voters just didn’t trust the veteran centre-right New Democracy and thoroughly rejected the anti-austerity radical left. Syriza can now only move towards the centre.