Antonis Samaras, the head of Greece’s conservative New Democracy party, has resigned from leadership following the nation’s resounding rejection of Eurozone debt repayment terms in a referendum on Sunday. Samaras will be remembered most for being the only prime minister in the last decade to accept austerity measures and attempt to curb Greece’s spending during the current crisis.
“Our party needs a new start. As of today, I’m resigning from the leadership of New Democracy,” Samaras announced in a public statement early Monday. New Democracy had urged a strong “Yes” vote on Sunday’s referendum, in which the Greek people were asked to accept debt repayment terms from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that had long ago expired. The ruling party, the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), urged and received an overwhelming vote of “No” to these terms–which, in reality, the Greek government no longer has the power to accept or reject.
The vote is nonetheless being interpreted as an overwhelming rejection of negotiating with the EU and IMF to pay back Greece’s massive public debt, consistent with the rise of Syriza to power in 2014. Current Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took over from Samaras following a vote in which New Democracy’s attempts to negotiate with creditors to keep the euro in Greece were declined in exchange for Syriza’s now internationally recognized belligerent approach to dealing with the nation’s debt, which has included demanding reparations from the German people over loans forcibly made to Nazi Germany, to the tune of 279 billion euros.
Samaras was the head of New Democracy for more than five years, two-and-a-half of which he spent as prime minister of the country. He noted in his speech that he had worked to urge a “Yes” vote and that this failure is largely the reason for his resignation. Greek newspapers report that he was forced to step down by party leadership, who allegedly urged him to step down before the referendum took place in the hope of attracting more votes to their side with the change.
Samaras’ legacy will largely be one of fiscal responsibility and of repeated warnings that, under Syriza, Greece may well see its last days in the eurozone. His campaign largely consisted of highlighting Syriza’s penchant for defying the European Union and equating a vote for Syriza to a vote for secession from the European project. In January, Samaras warned that Tsipras’ leadership will inevitably lead to a default should it continue to reject financial reforms intended to curb Greece’s public spending. “SYRIZA will take unilateral action that will cause a default. … At their conference, they said they would not pay interest or principal – that is the definition of a default,” Samaras said at a campaign stop in January. Tsipras denied that Syriza would allow such a series of events.
Greece officially defaulted on its debt to Europe on July 1.
Current acting New Democracy head Vangelis Meimarakis has begun procedures to elect a new conservative leader. Many view the viability of New Democracy as integral to the stability of Greece in a time during which a leftist populist party rules the country and few right-wing alternatives currently remain. Just as the collapse of the center-left Socialist Party Pasok allowed for the Marxist extremists of Syriza to take over, a collapse of New Democracy may usher in the growth of Golden Dawn, a populist Nazi party that has seen its numbers rise in the wake of the economic crisis.