Alexis Tsipras has taken the oath of office as Greece’s new prime minister after his unexpectedly strong victory in snap elections.
On Monday, almost eight months to the day after he was sworn in at the helm of Athens’s first ever far-left government, Tsipras stood before the president of the republic for a second time pledging to serve his people and country. He then walked through pouring rain to the prime ministers’ office – premises he vacated barely a month ago after calling the poll following a revolt in his Syriza party and loss of parliamentary majority.
“Our commitment is to try to get this country out of the crisis in which it has been for the last five years,” he told the interim prime minister Vassiliki Thanou, a supreme court judge and the nation’s first female leader.
Earlier, Tsipras prepared a new government to negotiate the difficult path that lies ahead for his country.
Sunday’s general election victory marked a personal triumph for the 41-year-old, who had gambled on the election last month to see off a revolt by party radicals over his U-turn on accepting more austerity measures in exchange for Greece’s third international bailout.
Syriza’s stronger-than-expected win secured it 145 of 300 parliamentary seats, short of an outright majority but enough to allow the party to govern with only one small coalition partner. Ignoring criticism at home and abroad, Tsipras moved ahead to forge a joint power-sharing arrangement with his previous partner, the small, nationalist Independent Greeks party (Anel).
Despite predictions that they would struggle to cross the 3% threshold to get into parliament, the Independent Greeks gained 3.6 % of voter support giving them 10 MPs.
Echoing the same consternation he had expressed at the power-sharing arrangement in January, European parliament president Martin Schulz repeated that officials in Brussels regarded Anel as a “strange, far-right party.”
But emerging from talks with Panos Kammenos, Anel’s leader, Tsipras said the two men were poised to govern for the next four years.
“We now have the great opportunity, taking steady steps and using the four years of our mandate to implement our main commitment, which is to give an honest fight and to shed our blood if necessary to stop our people bleeding further,” he told reporters.
The leftist leader, who managed to rally supporters despite rolling back on almost every promise he had made, emphasised that the government’s “first big battle” would be to revive the country’s crippled economy, starting with the banking system under capital control since June.
Debt relief – the condition set by the International Monetary Fund to participate in Athens’ latest bailout – would top his list of demands.
“We will continue negotiations in the coming period, with the debt issue being the first and most important battle,” a senior Syriza source insisted. “We will ask all political forces to support our effort.”
Greek debt, the fount of many of the nation’s financial woes, amounts to 180% of GDP – by far the highest in the EU.
With political commentators now speaking of the Tsipras phenomenon, the leftist stepped up pledges to sweep away the old political order – in power since the collapse of military rule in 1974 and widely blamed for the country’s economic decline and dysfunctional public sector.
“He will fight to change the system from within,” said Prof Konstantinos Tsoukalas, Greece’s preeminent sociologist and a former Syriza MP. “It was absolutely right that he signed [the bailout agreement]. The alternative would have been catastrophic,” he said, admitting that many of the terms attached to the deal were counter-productive.
“If Greece fails it will be a serious set back for a new possibility of a leftwing alliance taking place in Europe.”
The former culture minister Nikos Xydakis described the state sector as “nests upon nests upon nests of corruption, everywhere you look you see the rotten ancien regime”.
Tsipras will now have to deal with EU officials who still openly question Athens’ ability to remain in the eurozone. Much will depend on the debt-stricken nation’s rapid and effective implementation of spending cuts and reforms – the price for being bailed out to the tune of €86bn this summer.
Congratulating him on his return to office, senior EU mandarins emphasised the herculean tasks that lay ahead. European Union president Donald Tusk said he hoped the election results would “provide for the political stability necessary to face all the challenges at hand”.
Germany – which has provided the bulk of the €326bn Greece has received in rescue loans since mid-2010, but has often been a caustic critic – said it will work in partnership with the new government.
Keeping both creditors and voters happy will not be easy. Lenders want to see reforms passed with record speed. More than 100 pieces of legislation – many foreseeing a complete overall in the way the public administration is run and brutal cuts in well-fare hand-outs including pensions – have to be enacted by the end of October.
The new government’s first task – with a new €3bn tranche of aid at stake – will be to revise the 2015 budget to take into account the reforms. It must also finalise a procedure to recapitalise Greek banks by December if it wants to remove the banking resitrictions imposed to prevent a full-blown bank run three months ago. Record high abstention rates – only 55 % turned out for the vote – could raise legitimacy fears.
“A general strike has already been decided, we will all be taking to the streets, there will be no let up,” said Petros Constantinou with the far left Antarsya group.
“There will be a huge revolt against a leftwing government taking such measures. This winter will be the most explosive yet.”