Greece is heading straight into a snap general election and it currently looks like radical leftists Syriza will come out on top. The latest Greek polling has Syriza six points ahead of the centre-right New Democracy. That gap has been squeezed a little compared to previous months. According to analysts at Macropolis, it's usually more like 4-5%.
That polling would make Syriza the largest party in the Greek parliament (the winners of Greek elections get 50 bonus seats), and with a little coalition building, leader Alexis Tsipras is probably more likely than anyone to become the country's next Prime Minister.
Tsipras is a lifelong activist who was associated with Synaspismos (which makes up the largest part of the Syriza coalition) from the early 1990s, when he was a teenager. He's still a relative youngster as far as Greek politics is concerned, at just 40.
In 2006, Tsipras came third in Athens' municipal elections, and in 2008 he became leader of Synaspismos, before the beginning of the crisis. He's been in the Greek parliament since 2009, when he became the parliamentary head of Syriza. In 2012, the coalition came second in the general election and Tsipras became leader of the opposition.
If you want to know what Tsipras is all about today there's no better place to start than with the transcript of his discussion at the Brookings Institute last year. Here's a taste:
Truly, in my opinion, in order for us to remain in the eurozone over the long term, in order for the eurozone to survive, we need a radical change of plan. We need a rational reconsideration and review of our strategy to combat the crisis. And not just on a Greek level; on the European level. But this new strategy will not come until and only when a party like ours comes to power and say enough is enough. Not just in our country but in Brussels as well. Enough with this craziness of austerity.
Syriza are campaigning on a platform that European institutions simply aren't prepared for. They're pushing for a reversal of Greece's memorandum of understanding with the Troika (the IMF, EU, and European Central Bank), meaning more public spending and the end of a reform programme that's been underway for nearly five years.
They also want a bondholder haircut. This means the government effectively defaults on a portion of its debt and people who bought its bonds get only a slice of what they paid for. Major jobs programmes and bank nationalisations are also on the cards.
Tsipras is running Syriza headlong into a showdown with Europe's biggest institutions, but his arguments, at least the ones he makes to a US audience, sound more like Roosevelt than Lenin. He's insistent on staying in the euro (though that's not true of a significant chunk of Syriza), and wants a "new deal" for the European Union. His arguments about the reasons that the eurozone doesn't work very well don't sound that different to a lot of economists'.
He's got some kind words for Fed chair Ben Bernanke and wishes Europe's central bankers were a little more like him. Here's another snippet, showing how well Tsipras is aware of the confrontation he's about to start:
We see that the policies that Berlin is following are not only disastrous for Greece but place the entire European economy on uncertainty and on a larger level, the entire global economy. This may be a policy that is to Germany’s benefit, but it is a policy that places the global economy in danger. That’s why we’re here; because I believe that we can find allies in our effort to not only save Greece but to avert disaster for the global economy and Europe. We are psychologically prepared for a clash, for a clash because, you know, in life and in politics there is no such thing as tea and crumpets, there are interests that are conflicting with each other.
Greece's showdown with Europe's existing political order doesn't just affect Greece. If they get significant concessions on debt and public spending, it will be a major boost for every anti-austerity party in Europe.
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