Radical left party Syriza swept to power in Greece on 25 January 2015, promising to end years of painful austerity policies, in an election victory that puts the country on a collision course with the EU and international creditors.
In a result that exceeded analysts’ expectations, Syriza and its 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras won 149 seats in the 300-seat Greek Parliament, just two short of an absolute majority and opted to cooperate with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), a party just as determined as his own to dump the austerity policies imposed over the past five years. But analysts note that ANEL—best-known for vitriolic attacks on Germany—are unpredictable at best, and governing with them could also disrupt the balance among the various left-wing factions that make up Syriza.
Syriza and ANEL were brought closer in recent years by their common opposition to the EU-IMF bailout. But they could not be further apart on other key issues such as immigration and civil rights. Syriza want to soften Greece`s stance on migrants and asylum-seekers, while ANEL are close to the influential Orthodox Church and want to take a strong stance against neighbouring Turkey, Macedonia and Albania.
The New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was routed and reduced to around 76 seats.
Syriza becomes the first anti-austerity party to take power in Europe and Tsipras is Greece’s youngest Prime Minister in 150 years. The 40-year-old Tsipras heads the first euro zone government openly opposed to the kind of severe austerity policies which the European Union and International Monetary Fund imposed on Greece as a condition of its bailout.
An acronym meaning the “Radical Coalition of the Left”, Syriza was formed in 2004 as an umbrella group Led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras. The party first came to prominence following the 2008 Greek riots.
Financial markets reacted nervously to the victory of Tspiras, who has promised to renegotiate Greece’s debt agreements, fearing potential conflict with other euro zone governments that could put more strain on the currency bloc. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has insisted Greece must respect the terms of its 240 billion euro bailout deal, which saved the country from bankruptcy but at the cost of bitter sacrifices by the Greek people.
As thousands of flag-waving supporters hit the streets of Athens, some shedding tears of joy, Germany’s Bundesbank warned Greece it needed reform to tackle its economic problems. Syriza’s campaign slogan “Hope is coming!” resonated with voters worn down by huge budget cuts and heavy tax rises during six years of crisis that has sent unemployment over 25 percent and pushed millions into poverty.
Syriza’s victory is likely to encourage other anti-austerity parties which are winning support across Europe, such as the Podemos movement in Spain. But it might also strengthen the hand of mainstream leaders, including French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Minister Matteo Renzi, who argue that orthodox austerity policies have failed to produce the economic growth which Europe needs to recover fully from the global financial crisis.
However with Greece’s economy unlikely to recover for years, Tsipras faces enormous problems and his victory raises the prospect of tough negotiations with European.
Tsipras has promised to renegotiate agreements with the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund “troika” and write off much of Greece’s 320 billion-euro debt, which at more than 175 percent of gross domestic product, is the world’s second highest after Japan.
Tsipras wants to roll back many of the measures demanded by the “troika”, raising the minimum wage, lowering power prices for poor families, cutting property taxes and reversing pension and public sector pay cuts. Greece, unable to tap the markets because of sky-high borrowing costs, has enough cash to meet its immediate funding needs for the next couple of months but it faces around 10 billion euros of debt repayments over the summer.