Political analysts have often described the behavior of Greek voters during the economic crisis as “vote to punish” tactics. If a citizen disapproves of a government policy, they are likely to vote in favor of the opposition in order to punish the current administration, regardless of whether or not they even have faith in the opposition to do the job.
Ever since Greece entered the first bailout program in May of 2010, the anger and indignation of the Greek people has turned towards politicians, rightly or wrongly. George Papandreou was the first victim of the crisis, lasting only a little over a year after taking heat over the memorandum he signed.
Antonis Samaras, the prime minister with the New Democracy-PASOK coalition who served from June, 2012 until January, 2015, lasted quite a while longer than his predecessor. Yet in the end he also succumbed, this time to a newcomer, the firebrand Alexis Tsipras, whose bright, shining promises were simply unattainable.
The Greek people were plainly in a state of economic despair when they cast their votes in January of 2015. They pinned all their hopes on a politician who promised that he would tear up the bailout agreement, abolish property taxes, raise salaries and pensions, put an end to unemployment, fight corruption and tax evasion and ease all citizens’ debts to the state and banks.
Of course, all that was far too good to be true. Nevertheless, Greeks gave the Syriza party the majority, sending a leftist party to Maximos Mansion for the first time in history.
One of the fundamental rules of propaganda is that people are more likely to believe big lies than little lies. Alexis Tsipras and his staff, coming from the youth of the far-left and the Greek Communist Party, knew all the chapters of the propaganda book by heart.
In his four and a half years in government, Tsipras literally failed to fulfill one of his promises. And not only that, he signed a third bailout memorandum — with harsher measures than before — raised property taxes and other taxes across the board, and added many excise levies. The rabble-rousing young politician simply continued the severe austerity program he was elected to put a stop to.
Yet Tsipras never admitted that all the things he had promised the Greek people were nothing more than the vague, empty phrases most politicians use to get elected. It is impossible to believe that he didn’t know he couldn’t make his generous pledges become reality.
When the bailout program expired in August of 2018, the prime minister, with much fanfare, announced that his government had put an end to the memoranda, and from then on people would see that their sacrifices had paid off.
However, in practice, this was another untruth, of course, since some bailout program measures apply until the year 2060, and Greece is still under strict surveillance from creditors to see that the government adheres to its fiscal program.
And more importantly, people didn’t notice any marked changes in their everyday lives. Taxes remained the same, and prices in supermarkets remained high. Even the — loudly announced — eleven percent increase in the minimum wage was quietly offset by an 11 percent increase in social security contributions for professionals and freelancers.
The Greek prime minister made a number of mistakes, miscalculations and questionable machinations during his rule. But the most crucial of all was taking upon himself the handling of the Macedonia issue.
The majority of Greek people never wanted their northern Balkan neighbor — which had usurped chapters of Greek history to forge a history of their own — to claim the name “Macedonia” for themselves.
Yet Tsipras and then-foreign minister Nikos Kotzias proceeded to negotiate the usage of the name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia without the consent of opposition parties, and without even discussing the serious national issue with them.
At the same time, they branded the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who protested against the deal with Skopje “fascists,” “nationalists” and “extremists.” They then passed the debatable Prespa Agreement in the Greek parliament with the slimmest majority, amidst accusations of using ministerial positions to entice MPs from other parties who initially opposed the deal with Skopje.
In addition, the crime rate in Greece went up during the Syriza administration, with the numbers of burglaries and violent robberies soaring sky-high. On top of that, anarchist groups had their heyday, with attacks against police becoming an almost daily affair in the crime-ridden Exarchia neighborhood of central Athens.
The Greek Ministry of Justice added insult to injury by passing a bill which decriminalized the possession of firebombs. A Syriza MP even made the astounding statement that throwing a fire bomb is a “political act of protest,” and argued that no one had ever been killed by a Molotov cocktail.
Overall, it must be said that Greeks simply do not feel safe right now. They feel that their lives and property are in constant danger and that the police are understaffed and under-equipped. Rampant vandalism in the cities has become the norm, with the Greek government turning a blind eye.
Only days before Sunday’s elections, an anarchist group somehow eluded security forces and hurled bucket after bucket of red paint at the Greek Parliament building, with the House Speaker going through half-hearted motions of condemning the act.
And Greek voters did not forget the devastating wildfires at Mati which claimed 102 lives and caused widespread destruction of property.
On the fatal night of July 23, 2018, Tsipras and cabinet members had staged a show in the operations room of the Fire Service, pretending that there were no dead until that moment — when in fact they already knew that several fatalities had been confirmed.
After the tragedy, the administration began blaming previous administrations and the people of Mati for zoning violations and illegal structures — along with climate change — for the high number of victims. Furthermore, it failed to compensate the victims adequately, despite promises to the contrary.
And only in the beginning of May, 2019 did they announce the formation of a committee to discuss fire prevention and evacuation measures for any possible wildfires this summer.
Tsipras then announced several welfare dividend measures for pensioners and VAT reductions, only two weeks before the European Parliament and local government elections. It was a blatant effort to buy the votes of 2.7 million pensioners, on the pretext that the Finance Ministry discovered that there was a fiscal surplus in early May.
This was an act of a government in panic, which Tsipras’ main opponent, New Democracy Party chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis, pointed out and used effectively during the election campaign.
Finally, one of the last straws might have been the photographs of Tsipras and his family vacationing in the Ionian Sea on the luxurious yacht belonging to shipping magnate Pericles Panagopoulos in August, 2018, only days after the deadly fires at Mati.
When the photographs came out just recently, government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos rushed to speak of “fake news,” accusing the New Democracy Party of vile propaganda, even falsely claiming that Tsipras was never actually on the yacht.
However, the magnate’s wife, Katerina Panagopoulos, came forward, saying that the prime minister is a friend of hers and she in fact had hosted him and his family on their luxurious yacht because he was in need of rest.
The images tarnished the reputation of Tsipras as a leftist rebel who came to the political arena to fight the corruption and the oligarchy which had brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.
Rubbing shoulders with the elite — which he never stopped accusing of creating all the problems of the country — was yet another blow to his waning credibility.
In sum, Alexis Tsipras told many untruths to climb to the prime minister’s seat and he continued these tactics throughout his term. He appeared arrogant throughout his time in office as well, insulting the Greek people’s intelligence too many times, starting with the absurd question in the July 2015 referendum.
The ease with which he made these statements was truly disturbing. He also blatantly used Greek public television as a propaganda vehicle, which resulted in many viewers turning away.
On Sunday, Greeks used their vote to punish Alexis Tsipras for all the above — and many more minor infractions — while at the same time expressing their disbelief in his many promises of better days ahead.