ATHENS – Holding a lead of 4.9 percent in latest polls ahead of the critical Jan. 25 elections, major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras said he hopes to win enough votes to control Parliament and form a government without a coalition.
Tsipras, who has vowed to roll back austerity measures, asked Greeks to give him enough support over the New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras so that he could impose his program without having to compromise.
The two are running close to each other but without enough of the overall vote to get a majority in the 300-member Parliament as it appears five more parties could cross the 3 percent threshold needed to elect lawmakers.
Tsipras’ problem is that apart from the far right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) who may barely get into Parliament, and with only a handful of seats, no other party so far has been willing to work with him apart from the To Potami (The River) that is slated to finish third but said the won’t cooperate unless he moderates his tone and works with international lenders.
“An autonomous SYRIZA means a powerful Greece,” he said during speech in Patra. “A powerful SYRIZA means an autonomous Greece. It means an end to national humiliation. It means an end to the catastrophic memorandums.”
That was a reference to the deals that successive Greek governments, first PASOK in 2010 under then-leader George Papandreou, and then the current coalition led by Samaras and is partner the Socialists, signed with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
The memoranda brought Greece 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts but came with attached big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings and the sale and lease of state entities.
That decimated support for the government although Samaras – who had opposed austerity while out of office – said it saved the country and was creating a looming recovery from a crushing economic crisis caused largely by the two ruling parties going on wild spending binges for decades and hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes.
An Alco poll for To Pontiki, a satirical weekly, put SYRIZA at 32 percent and New Democracy at 27.1 percent. The gap between the two parties widened by 0.2 points in week as Samaras anxiously reached out to undecided as he preached that New Democracy would keep stability.
SYRIZA officials said they were confident of winning even if the party couldn’t get control of Parliament and form a government.
Trying to gain momentum, Tsipras was dismissive of co-operating with other parties after the elections, including missed potential coalition partners, such as PASOK and Potami, as “guarantors of the troika.”
“We will not govern with the Troika,” he said. “Nor will we accept people who represent the Troika’s views in our cabinet.”
TSIPRAS TALKS TOUGH
After saying he was willing to negotiate with the lenders as European leaders were anxious SYRIZA could renege on a big chunk of the debt – which could force Greece out of the Eurozone – Tsipras ratched up the rhetoric again as he appeared confident of a win bigger than expected as Greeks weary of austerity seemed poised to punish Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos, who served as his Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister and has paid a big price, with the party languishing near the bottom in surveys.
After saying he would never work with SYRIZA nor its 40-year-old leader, Venizelos had his hat in his hand and said he would now be willing to serve in a coalition with the Leftists after he served with its political enemy, New Democracy, so that he could stay in power.
“We want to be a national partner, not necessarily a government partner, but if the country needs us we are willing to help,” he told Reuters.
In an interview with Alpha TV, Venizelos said that SYRIZA and PASOK’s views on foreign policy are closely aligned although on domestic policy they are eons apart with Tsipras vehemently opposed to austerity and Venizelos a big supporter until recently when he tried to distance himself and opposed what he supported.
FEEDING ON HOPE
In the final days of election campaigning, Samaras tried to persuade Greeks whose pay he had cut, taxes he had raised, those he had fired, that he was telling the truth about the country’s condition and that he would now cut their taxes and bring more benefits.
He has been speaking mostly to his own supporters. Ahead of his final campaign speech at an arena in Faliro on Jan. 23, Samaras was set to change gears late and appeal to supporters of ANEL and the ultra far-right Golden Dawn – whose leaders he had arrested on charges of running a criminal gang – asking for their votes.
Leaning further right, Samaras condemned SYRIZA proposals to remove religious icons from schools and public offices.
He met with the outspoken Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki to underline New Democracy strong ties to the Church and as Conservative critics have portrayed Tsipras as an atheist in a country where 97 percent of people say they are Greek Orthodox.
Polls show that after To Potami that the Golden Dawn extremists would finish fourth, followed by the KKE Communists, PASOK and ANEL, all of whom have only marginal backing.
Still, Samaras was reaching out to those in other parties and the undecideds, as well as those in the new Kinima party formed by Papandreou that surveys show has almost no chance of entering Parliament.
After feuding with his successor Venizelos, Papandreou broke from PASOK, the party his father – the late Premier Andreas Papandreou – founded four decades ago but voters have tuned out to him.
In a speech in Thessaloniki, Samaras said a New Democracy win was the only way to avert fresh political and financial upheaval after he had warned that a SYRIZA administration would unravel recovery and cause a run on the banks.