Locked in a tight race with the ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in the May 25 European Parliament elections and the run-off round of balloting for Greek municipalities, major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras told voters at a rally it’s time to replace the country’s entrenched leaders.
With polls showing the Leftists are as much as 2.5 percent ahead in the EU race, Tsipras seized on the moment during a gathering in Omonia Square to ask voters to cross party lines and support his party, which is opposed to the harsh austerity measures imposed by Samaras and his coalition partner the PASOK Socialists on orders of international lenders.
He said the day would be an “historic referendum” on the big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings implemented by the coalition as a condition of getting 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
The Athens News Agency reported that Tsipras invited all those present, “regardless of what they voted for up to now,” to join SYRIZA in a political rebellion against the two parties who created the country’s crushing economic crisis, although Samaras has said he’s bringing stability and a recovery.
He hammered home that SYRIZA and its supporters would use the day to send a message “that the future Europe cannot be built without democracy, without equality among the peoples, without mutual respect and without solidarity.”
He likened the opportunity to the occasion 40 years when Greeks, overthrowing a military junta and its royalty and “got rid of the palace of kings and will now kick out the palace of interlinked interests in the political and economic establishment, which led our homeland to the destructiveness of the memorandums.”
SYRIZA, he said, will provide “a historic victory that will change Greece.” He charged Samaras’ government with “desperately trying again to fool people,” and accused him of “unleashing an unprecedented frenzy of campaign promises the last two days.”
Tspiras said Samaras would lose and that the defeat would also be a repudiation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is the biggest contributor to the rescue packages and who demanded harsh conditions in return.
Tsipras accused the premier of “hiding from a debate” and of “hiding behind the backs of Merkel and former EU leader Jean-Claude Juncker, but he will not be able to hide behind the ballot boxes.”
Juncker, now a candidate for European Commission President, was head of the Eurozone when Greece began getting its bailouts and backed the terms but now said they were too heavy on workers, pensioners and the poor.
Tspiras charged the prime minister of “adopting an extreme-right agenda and divisory speech” and pledged that his party would “not hand over the working class to the neo-Nazis, nor let our people believe that fascism goes against the system.”
That was in reference to the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose leaders and Members of Parliament have been arrested or jailed pending a trial on charges of running a criminal gang.
Samaras’ government had been accused by critics of letting Golden Dawn conduct attacks against immigrants and giving the extremists a foothold before cracking down on them, and the Premier has hinted that SYRIZA is trying to cozy up to the party’s followers to win them over for the elections.