The Rise of Syriza: Why Alexis Tsipras Won the Parliamentary Elections

The recent parliamentary elections reaffirmed the political hegemony of Syriza and Alexis Tsipras personally in the Greek political system. The leftist party scored 35 percent of vote and formed a coalition government with a small right-wing party.

At first sight, the result may seem odd: capital controls have damaged the already ruined economy, the unemployment rate is rising, and many senior members have left Syriza to establish their own party of Popular Unity calling for the reintroduction of drachma. Against this background, the Greek voters should have voted for the conservative party of New Democracy which during its two-year tenure managed to bring the economy back to its feet. Although opinion polls indicated a close race between the two parties, Syriza won by an eight percentage points.

What is behind this spectacular victory? First, Tsipras convinced many Greeks that he tried really hard to negotiate a better deal with the foreign creditors. He backed down only when he realized that “no deal” meant Grexit which is not what most Greeks want. Thus he proved to be not only a brave patriot who stood up against the “Germans’” but also a pragmatic politician. Second, many voters are simply fed up with mainstream parties that ruled the country for many years without cracking down on big problems like corruption and tax evasion. Syriza is widely viewed as an inexperienced force of idealists that deserves to have a second chance. Tsipras’ self-criticism clearly paid off because Greek voters are not accustomed to hear politicians acknowledging mistakes. Third, Tsipras made promises and used an inspirational rhetoric as opposed to other candidates who offered only “blood, toil, tears and sweat “. While it is obvious that the July 2015 agreement will bring more taxes and budget cuts, supporters of Syriza hope that a left-wing government would be more sensitive to demands for social justice and fair representation of interests.

The victory of Tsipras and his party is good news for the Eurozone. The Greek Prime Minister has committed himself to the implementation of a series of painful reforms so that the economy will become more competitive. Following the humiliating defeat of his former hardline comrades of the Popular Unity Party who failed to win any parliamentary seats, it is clear that the huge majority of Greeks is willing to support, even reluctantly, those reforms that would keep the country in the Eurozone. Also, the gradual pragmatization of Syriza showed that left-wing governments cannot change much the political and economic realities in Europe. Despite all the harsh rhetoric against the EU, Tsipras is about to launch the biggest ever privatization program. More importantly, the geopolitical orientation of Greece will not change anytime soon. Athens cannot afford to distance itself from Brussels, Paris and Berlin. Greece’s future is tied to the rest of Europe, for better or worse, and Tsipras came to recognize it.
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