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Anti-austerity camp scents blood as Greeks face snap poll

© AFP | Greece's next leader? Syriza’s charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2014-12-29

Greek lawmakers failed in their third and last attempt to elect a new president on Monday, triggering a snap election that could propel the anti-austerity Syriza party to power.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a conservative, was desperate to elect a successor to outgoing President Karolos Papoulias and avert an early election polls suggest he is likely to lose.

"The Greek people don't want early elections. The Greek people understand where this adventure could lead," an ominous Samaras warned late Saturday in a televised interview.

But his candidate, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, fell 12 votes short of the required 180 in parliament’s third attempt to elect a new president.

Under the country’s constitution, parliament will have to be dissolved in the next 10 days, paving the way for a snap poll. Samaras said he would call a general election on January 25.

His ruling conservatives are tipped to come second behind Syriza, a radical leftwing party that wants to roll back unpopular austerity measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“All polls suggest Syriza will be the likely winners, with a lead of at least 3% over their conservative rivals,” said Nathalie Savaricas, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Athens.

Whether Syriza would have a clear majority to form a government on its own is still in dispute.

Saving Greece

A popular figure among left-wingers in Europe, Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras sounded upbeat in a weekend interview, renewing his pledge to unravel Greece’s belt-tightening measures.

"Syriza's victory in elections will jumpstart a massive national effort to save society and restore Greece," he told local newspaper Avgi. "Our first step will be to implement our programme to address the humanitarian crisis. This won't create new loans, nor will it be a subject of negotiations."

F24's Savaricas reports from Athens: 'Polls point to Syriza win'

Tsipras, 40, was referring to the prospect of tough talks with Greece's international creditors, which have issued two bailouts worth €240 billion in return for crippling austerity measures.

After six painful years of recession, the economy has only just begun showing tentative signs of recovery – though some economists, like the New York Times' Paul Krugman, warn that another crisis is just round the corner.

While the government now boasts of a budget surplus, the human cost has been drastic for Greeks battling with escalating unemployment and plummeting wages and benefits.

Syriza has vowed to raise salaries and pensions, end the job hemorrhage and halt the privatisation of state assets – none of which is likely to go down well with Greece’s creditors.

Greek stocks plunged 11% following Monday's vote in parliament, underscoring fears of renewed instability in the eurozone's weakest economy. Like Samaras, many officials at the EU and IMF are alarmed by the prospect of a win for Greece's radical left.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a key advocate of austerity, has warned that any new government must respect commitments made by its predecessor.

"We will continue to help Greece along the path of difficult reforms," Schaeuble told Germany's Bild newspaper on Saturday. But if Greece "decides to take another path, that will be more difficult," he warned.

Going moderate?

Mindful of the challenges ahead, Syriza has struck a more pragmatic note as it moves closer to power.

“Greece is in serious negotiations with its creditors, the bailout just got extended by two months [and] the country must pay back millions of euros in maturing bonds,” said FRANCE 24’s Savaricas. “Syriza know this, which is why they have ratcheted down their tone.”

The party’s chief economic policymaker, John Milios, told the Associated Press on Saturday that a Syriza government would not run deficits and would pursue fiscal consolidation, but “in a way which places the burden on those who can pay”.

Milios said the left-wing party would boost growth through fiscal stimulus, targeted at lower incomes in order to boost their spending power, while avoiding “what happened in the past, such as over-indebtedness”.

The German-educated economist acknowledged negotiations with Greece’s creditors would be arduous.

“They will not agree at the beginning,” Milios said, though adding that all parties in the talks had “a common interest” in guaranteeing “solvency in the eurozone”.

“We can agree on certain targets to achieve, not on the means to achieve them,” he said, describing the austerity policies pursued so far as "disastrous".

“There is a wind of change all over Europe,'' Milios insisted, pointing to growing opposition to belt-tightening across the continent, including in Germany.

With elections now looming, his party is confident it can show the way.

Syriza's John Milios rules out 'deficit policy'


Date created : 2014-12-28


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