Greek PM Alexis Tsipras resigns, calls for early election

ATHENS (TIP): Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned on August 20, hoping to strengthen his hold on power in snap elections after seven months in office in which he fought Greece’s creditors for a better bailout deal but had to cave in.

Tsipras submitted his resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and asked for the earliest possible election date.

Government officials said the aim was to hold the election on Sept. 20, with Tsipras seeking to quell a rebellion in his leftist Syriza party and seal public support for the bailout programme, Greece’s third since 2010, that he negotiated.

“The political mandate of the January 25 elections has exhausted its limits and now the Greek people have to have their say,” Tsipras said in a televised address.

His decision to return to the ballot box deepens political uncertainty on the very day Greece began receiving funds under its 86 billion-euro ($96 billion) bailout programme with foreign creditors.

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But a snap election should allow Tsipras to capitalise on his popularity with Greek voters before the toughest parts of the programme begin to bite, and may allow him to return to power in a stronger position without anti-bailout rebels in Syriza to slow him down. ($1 = 0.8938 euros)

Clear political landscape

Pressure for early elections had been steadily building in recent days.

Senior aides, such as Energy Minister Panos Skourletis, said the split with the party rebels who are threatening to break away had to be dealt with. “The political landscape must clear up. We need to know whether the government has or does not have a majority,” he told ERT.

Syriza is expected to call a party congress in September to resolve differences with the rebels. But Skourletis said Tsipras should move faster. “I would say elections first, then the party congress,” he said.

Calling elections in September means the vote will be held before voters start feeling the new bailout measures including further pension cuts, more value-added tax increases and a
“solidarity” tax on incomes.

Knock-on effects of capital controls imposed in June, which are likely to stay until Greek banks are recapitalised later this year with bailout funds, will also hurt voters.

The other option had been to delay the vote till October, after international creditors have reviewed Greece’s performance in keeping to the bailout programme. They will then start to consider some way of easing the country’s huge debt burden.

Tsipras has long argued that Greece will never be able to repay all its debts and wants some to be written off. While the euro zone favours merely delaying interest and principal repayments, Tsipras could still present any debt relief moves as an achievement to the electorate.

Syriza members have argued that the party should aim for a majority, saying this would achieve the stable government which Greece has lacked through the past five years of crisis.

“These elections, whenever they are announced by the government, will provide a stable governing solution. My feeling is that Syriza will have an absolute majority,” Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Syriza lawmaker in the European parliament, told Mega TV.

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