Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, who has been mostly silent for months while the uneasy coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has been preparing $14.6 billion in budget cuts aimed primarily at the poor, workers and pensioners, said Greece should walk away from its deal with international lenders.
Greece is surviving on a first round of $152 billion in rescue loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) but is waiting for the last installment of $38.8 billion, as well as a second bailout of $172 billion that has been delayed until the government imposes more cuts and reforms.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Thessaloniki International Fair, the main opposition party leader called for a halt to the country’s continuing slide into debt and a deeper recession he blamed on the austerity measures insisted upon by the lenders and said Greece should start preparing itself for a “post-Troika era.” He said the country could no longer stand the impact of an “absurd fiscal policy,” of relying on foreign aid.
Pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions have worsened a deep recession now in its fifth year, put nearly two million people out of work, closed 68,000 businesses and shrunk the economy by 7 percent with all indications it will get worse if the Samaras-led government puts more harsh conditions on Greek citizens.
“The protracted recession, the unprecedented crisis that has hit our country is suffocating the real economy,” the leftist leader said, adding that it was time for the opposition to lead a shift in economic policy. “We are obliged to change direction, we are obliged to overhaul the prospects for growth in the economy,” Tsipras said. He didn’t offer any ideas, only opposition to the current policies.
Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and his reluctant partners, the PASOK Socialists and tiny Democratic Left, have seen their popularity plummet over the proposed tough new measures that are said to include taxing the poor, raising the retirement age to 67, slashing lump sum payments pensioners earned over a career of working, more pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, a six-day-78-hour work week and reducing severance payments drastically for those who lose their jobs.
As the head of the main opposition party, Tsipras was giving a traditional address after Samaras broke with it and declined to talk about the state of the country’s economy at the fair. Politicians in favor of austerity have been hounded ever since the measures began being imposed two-and-a-half years ago with protests so vehement that they brought down the former government of then PASOK leader George Papandreou last year.