Well, it is official: The Greek coalition government will not be able to elect the President of the Hellenic Republic from the present parliament in December, and much to SYRIZA’s delight, the country will go to general elections in the first two months of 2015.
Alexis Tsipras and company are already riding the high horse. After all, they lead steadily on opinion polls for months now. “On December 29, the people will be in power,” stated the opposition party leader, referring to the date of the third presidential ballot that he is certain it will fail to elect a new President. SYRIZA MP Panayiotis Lafazanis, the party’s hardcore communist, talks publicly about a new day in Greece where the Left will rule, and Europe, as well as our international creditors, will see something they haven’t seen before. He never specified what he meant by that but it sounded scary to everyone who knows Greece’s difficult situation right now. He also declared on the radio that SYRIZA will win by a landslide and there is no reason for the reporter to ask him who would SYRIZA collaborate with if they don’t get enough seats in Parliament to form a government.
All that would be perfectly fine if it didn’t bring the months before the 2009 elections to mind, when George Papandreou, leading the mighty PASOK of yore, demanded snap elections after two years of New Democracy rule. Prime Minister at the time Costas Karamanlis was suffocating under the weight of the upcoming economic crisis. The U.S. economic crisis of 2008 was knocking on Europe’s door and the blow for weak and corrupt Greece would be much stronger. Karamanlis decided this was too much to bear. He probably thought, “let Papandreou handle the hot potato, I’m out of here.” Then he almost disappeared from political life.
George Papandreou took the hot potato indeed. He soon found that it burned his hands. From his famous pre-election motto “there is money,” he went running to the International Monetary Fund for help within months. From the October 2009 exultation until May 2010, when Greece passed to the “Memorandum” era, Papandreou and PASOK didn’t have much time to enjoy victory.
There are more familiar themes between now and 2009. New Democracy was losing in popularity because Greece was out of money and there was nothing to disperse to voters. It is the same currently. Now we actually borrow to keep the country afloat. But SYRIZA insists there is money, they just use different words. They haven’t told us where is it yet, but somehow potential voters seem to have been convinced there is, somewhere.
What if then all this is an Antonis Samaras scheme, a clever Plan B to get rid of SYRIZA after a few years, and then come back again as savior. Because if indeed New Democracy loses in the snap elections and SYRIZA comes to power, even in a coalition, they will have to be the ones to negotiate with our creditors and implement the required reforms. If they don’t, and Greece is forced to leave the Eurozone, then the economy will suffer and subsequently the Greek people will suffer too. Because the harsh truth is that there is no money for all the policies and welfare measures they are promising, like requisition of privatized public property, free electricity to 300,000 households or across the board raises in pensions and salaries in the public sector.
It is possible that under the exultation of the impending victory, there is some skepticism for SYRIZA members. Some “what ifs” that can’t be erased by the percentages in opinion polls or the buzz of political obsession. Like “what if the presidential election is a bait set by shrewd Mr. Samaras,” “what if Europe stops lending us,” “what if people turn against us if we fail to deliver what we promised,” “what if there are disputes amongst us when we are in power.”
Maybe there is something to be learned by Papandreou’s spectacular fall, who entered the arena full of lions without a Plan B. He is the one who took the blame for putting Greece in the harsh bailout program and reduced his party to one digit percentage figures. It remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself and the 2015 elections will bring Greece back to 2009.