Judgement time for Syriza

Yesterday, after a very brief yet polarized pre-election period, the Greek people went to the polls and voted for their new government. Regardless of personal preferences or ideological inclinations, the result was an astounding victory for the Left in Greece. SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, officially won the parliamentary elections falling one seat short of outright majority. As many supporters of the party chanted until the early hours of Monday morning: “It’s SYRIZA’s time.”

Many things can been said about the party, its Leader, its programmatic pledges, and the views expressed by a number of its (former and new) MPs. Since 2010, SYRIZA has adopted a highly inflammatory populist rhetoric, and has surged at the top of the “anti-austerity” camp in Greece. It’s elected representatives have criticized excessively – often, using highly derogatory language – both the previously elected Greek governments, and the Troika of lenders responsible for overlooking the bailout packages received by Greece. They have attacked the former parties of the establishment (New Democracy and PASOK), they have pledged to overthrow the existing oligarchic power-structure in place, they have vouched to overturn all of the policies decided by the previous (democratically elected!) governments, and they have insisted over and over again that they would not honor the agreements made between Greece and its international lenders.

In crisis-ridden Greece, it is no wonder that they turned themselves from a fringe party in the margins of Greek politics to the official opposition party in the parliamentary elections of 2012, to coming first in the European Elections of 2014, and eventually forming a government after yesterday’s elections. By strategically capitalizing on the anger and desperation of the Greek people, they have managed to propel themselves at the forefront of the political scene. In order to do so, they have followed a smart tactic of excessive promise-making and pledges that are not only unfeasible (given the current financial situation of Greece), but also deeply destructive of any prospect of recovery from the country’s current state. Playing favorites with the unions, embracing a statist approach in decision-making, and proposing a host of anti-liberal and anti-reformist economic and social measures, SYRIZA does not seem to grasp the fundamental issues at the crux of the Greek downfall, and does not offer a viable progressive-reformist plan to move forward.

SYRIZA has promised many things. Most of all, however, it has promised new ‘hope’ to the people of Greece. Even its main pre-election slogan was “Hope is coming.” It has elevated tremendously the expectations of the domestic population, but it has also managed to put itself in the center of international debates about austerity and economic growth – especially within Europe.

All eyes are on Tsipras and his party now. There is no scapegoating this time around, nobody else to blame. It is them, now, that will have to take the difficult decisions about the country. It is them that will have to meet face-to-face with the Troika of lenders, with foreign Ministers of Finance, and with the person they have demonized the most in the past 3 years: Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. They will now become the new government – albeit with the help of the ultra-nationalist, anti-liberal, far-right party ANEL (Independent Greeks). In a sense, maybe this is the most appropriate of all setups: both SYRIZA and ANEL have championed an anti-austerity, anti-memorandum, and even anti-European rhetoric. They have both starkly opposed any and every attempt to reform Greece in the past few years, and have made no concessions whatsoever. Now, they are both in power, together.

I am not very optimistic about what tomorrow brings for Greece. Especially after SYRIZA reaching out to ANEL for a coalition government, rather than any of the other two center-left parties (PASOK, the old party of the establishment; and To Potami, a new party created early 2014 by a former journalist). One could say that this was to be expected, and I fully agree. But I was also hoping for a better ‘kolotoumba’ (i.e. somersault, in Greek) than this.

We will witness, of course, many ‘kolotoumbes’ in the upcoming months, especially as they pertain to the programmatic promises of SYRIZA about the economy and our existing agreements with Troika. Let’s hope that they happen soon. And once they do, let’s hope that they are enough to keep this country afloat.

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