Greek radical-left leader vows to end 'humiliation and pain'

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras delivers a victory speech to supporters in Athens.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras delivers a victory speech to supporters in Athens. Aris Messinis, AFP

Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras promised on Sunday that five years of austerity, “humiliation and pain” imposed by international creditors were over after his Syriza party swept to victory in a snap election on Sunday.


With more than 99 percent of votes counted, Syriza was set to win 149 seats in the 300-seat parliament, taking 36.3 percent of the vote, 8.5 points ahead of the conservative New Democracy party of outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

The resounding victory left Syriza just two seats short of an outright majority, meaning Alexis Tsipras will need to find a coalition partner.

Syriza's 40-year-old leader was sworn in as Greece’s new prime minister on Monday, putting him at the head of the first eurozone government openly opposed to the kind of severe austerity policies which the European Union and International Monetary Fund imposed on the country as a condition of its bailout.

“Greece leaves behind catastrophic austerity, it leaves behind fear and authoritarianism, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and anguish,” Tsipras had told thousands of cheering supporters gathered in Athens less than 24 hours earlier.

Yiorgos Tsipras, Syriza’s foreign policy coordinator, said that the results showed to what extent Greeks disapproved of the strict austerity measures that have crippled their country. “There is a clear condemnation of the shock therapy that was applied in Greece,” he told FRANCE 24. “So now the way out of the crisis begins. We [Syriza] have promised a humanitarian programme that doesn’t mean any loan, any money from abroad.”

Economic uncertainty

Financial markets reacted nervously to victory for Tspiras, who has promised to renegotiate Greece’s debt agreements, fearing potential conflict with other eurozone governments that could put more strain on the currency bloc.

The euro slid 0.3 percent to a 12-year low against the dollar, trading at $1.117. US stock futures fell as Asian markets opened on Monday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has insisted Greece must respect the terms of its 240 billion euro bailout deal, which saved the country from bankruptcy but at the cost of bitter sacrifices by the Greek people.

As thousands of flag-waving supporters hit the streets of Athens, some shedding tears of joy, Germany’s Bundesbank warned Greece it needed reform to tackle its economic problems.


Syriza’s campaign slogan “Hope is coming!” resonated with voters worn down by huge budget cuts and heavy tax rises during six years of crisis that have sent unemployment over 25 percent, slashed family incomes by a third and pushed millions into poverty.

“We hope our expectations will be fulfilled,” 47-year-old teacher Efi Avgoustakoushe told Reuters. “On Monday in class, we’re not allowed to comment and take sides but we will be smiling.”

‘Lost dignity’

Tsipras said he would cooperate with fellow eurozone leaders for “a fair and mutually beneficial solution” but said the Greek people came first. “Our priority from the very first day will be to deal with the big wounds left by the crisis,” he said. “Our foremost priority is that our country and our people regain their lost dignity.”

He has promised to keep Greece in the euro and has toned down some of his rhetoric but his arrival in power would mark the biggest challenge yet to the approach adopted to the crisis by euro zone governments.

Syriza’s victory is likely to encourage other anti-austerity parties which are winning support across Europe, such as the Podemos movement in Spain.

But it might also strengthen the hand of mainstream leaders including French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Minister Matteo Renzi who argue that orthodox austerity policies have failed to produce the economic growth Europe badly needs.

Hollande expressed in a statement his “desire to pursue the close cooperation between our two countries in the service of growth and the stability of the eurozone”.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja was more forthright, saying he believed the result would change the debate in Europe and put more emphasis on growth and employment. “This is a slap at what I see as a very right-wing economic policy in Europe,” Tuomioja, a Social Democrat, told the website of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper.

British Prime Minister David Cameron extended a much colder welcome to Syriza, tweeting on Sunday: “The Greek election will increase economic uncertainty across Europe. That's why the UK must stick to our plan, delivering security at home.”


Greece’s bailout deal with the eurozone is due to end on February 28 and Tsipras’s immediate challenge will be to settle doubts over the next instalment of more than 7 billion euros in international aid. EU finance ministers are due to discuss the issue in Brussels on Monday.

Standoff with Berlin

Tsipras has promised to renegotiate agreements with the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund “troika” and write off much of Greece’s 320-billion-euro debt, which at more than 175 percent of gross domestic product, is the world’s second highest after Japan.

Coming after the ECB’s move to pump billions into the bloc’s flagging economy, Sunday’s result will stir consternation in Berlin. A senior lawmaker in Merkel’s conservative party said the result showed Greek voters had turned away from austerity but he said Europe could not accept rejection of the bailout. “We must not reward the breaching of agreements,” Wolfgang Bosbach told the daily Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.

“That would send completely the wrong signal to other crisis-stricken countries that would then expect the same treatment.” Tsipras wants to roll back many of the measures demanded by the “troika”, raising the minimum wage, lowering power prices for poor families, cutting property taxes and reversing pension and public sector pay cuts.

US investment bank J.P. Morgan said the result could weigh on markets but that it considered speculation over a possible Greek exit from the euro was “a stretch” and a negotiated deal appeared the most likely outcome. “Our base case remains that a Syriza government or Syriza-dominated coalition would alter its platform to retain troika financing,” it said.

Greece, unable to tap the markets because of sky-high borrowing costs, has enough cash to meet its immediate funding needs for the next couple of months but it faces around 10 billion euros of debt repayments over the summer.

Unlikely coalition partners

Syriza's first priority will be to find a stable coalition partner in order to confidently push its anti-austerity programme. This is likely to be the Independent Greeks party, a small right-wing outift which captured almost 5 percent of the vote and 13 seats.

After a meeting with Tsipras on Monday, the party's leader Panos Kammenos said he would back a Syriza government. "From this moment, the country has a government. Independent Greeks give a vote of confidence to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras," Kammenos said, without clarifying whether he would join a coalition with Tsipras or give support to a minority government.

A Syriza source said the two parties "will ally themselves to secure a majority in parliament and form a government". An alliance between the two would control 162 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Observers were quick to note that apart from their mutual opposition to austerity, the two parties disagree on practically every other issue.

To read the day's developments in full, scroll through our blog below. To read the blog on a mobile phone or tablet, tap here.

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