Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is acting strangely in the past few weeks. Ever since negotiations for the second review of the bailout program stalled, he started acting like the defiant leftist politician he was before he was first elected in January 2015.
First he started a tour of rural areas, a move that looked suspiciously like an election campaign trail. Then he left the country in the middle of negotiations to go and pay his respects to the deceased Fidel Castro, being the only European state leader present. From Havana, he lashed at capitalism and neoliberalism and pledged to fight against them, at the same time hinting that the European Union represents austerity and all the evils of neoliberal policies.
Then he returned to Athens and declared war against the International Monetary Fund, after the December 5 Eurogroup refused to give the green light for the completion of the bailout program review he so desperately needed. His finance minister, the government spokesperson and several of his ministers and MPs paraded on television saying left and right that the IMF is proposing additional austerity measures that the government will not accept.
Suddenly, everyone at SYRIZA remembered that they are a leftist party that defies “capitalist” institutions like the European Stability Mechanism or the European Central Bank. Their rhetoric became bold again, the leftist clichés came out of the drawer. More so, the old supposed enemies of Greece came out of the closet again. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble turned enemy again, after simply saying that Tsipras did not implement the reforms he agreed to in order to get the bailout cash.
Then Tsipras started a series of pledges that sound, again, like pre-election pledges: He would give bonuses to pensioners, he would lower VAT on islands, he would build hospitals on remote islands, he would bring investments, he would bring the unicorns back.
All his pledges were accompanied by vicious attacks against the opposition. Tsipras and his self-professed comrades accused New Democracy of siding with Greece’s creditors in demanding more austerity measures, of wanting to fire dozens of thousands of public sector employees, of allowing private companies to lay off as many employees as they want, and all sorts of bad things — apart from beating up cute dogs.
In all his speeches, Tsipras did not sound like Greece’s ruler, like the man who is at the helm leading the country on a steady, safe course. Instead, he sounded like a man who asks for people’s vote, like someone who tries to convince people of his good intentions. Promising things in the future tense, when he is in power now and can do all the nice things he said. At the same time he sounded unsure of himself and resorted to bashing his opponents, saying how bad they would be if they are elected.
No wonder then that Greece is at the exact same point it was in December 2014: The Greek government has agreed to certain reforms that it is unwilling or incapable to implement. Unwilling because it dares not pay the political cost; incapable because the way the Greek state operates requires a complete overhaul and the death of the old political system, and that is a lot of work.
With polls showing SYRIZA trailing way behind New Democracy and public opinion being against Tsipras for betraying those who believed that he is the force of change, the prime minister is making spasmodic moves that show he is in panic. On Friday he will run again to Berlin to beg Chancellor Angela Merkel to give a hand so that the bailout program review is completed. The same woman he was telling to “Go back” exactly two years ago when addressing the crowds that brought him to power.
Centrists Union chief Vassilis Leventis said that the prime minister’s speech in parliament on Sunday sounded like a precursor for elections because it showed that Tsipras is preparing for a head-on collision with the IMF and, subsequently, European creditors. And since the peace talks on Cyprus are due on January 12, the prime minister would not want to shoulder that burden and most likely he will call for elections; with the most convenient day being January 22.