As announced earlier today, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has formally resigned, but he’ll be back.
In a televised address to his people, he said he had a moral duty to resign, because he was elected (just over half a year ago!) as a staunch opponent of the austerity measures he now believes it necessary to impose, in order to keep Greece in the Euro and secure its future.
“I feel the deep moral and political obligation to set before your judgment everything I have done, both right and wrong, the achievements and the omissions,” he said. “The popular mandate I received on January 25 has exhausted its limits.”
In effect, he wants to win a new election on the platform he reluctantly came to accept. If he wins, he believes Greece will become more unified and politically stable, convincing nervous Europeans they will carry out the difficult terms of the bailout program. “Your vote will decide if the deal we reached can get us out of this crisis,” he told the nation.
He also apologized for that deal falling short of the promises he made during his first election campaign. “I want to be completely honest – we didn’t achieve the agreement we wanted, but we’re obliged to honor the deal,” he said.
“I’m very proud of my government. We’ve negotiated hard for a long time,” Tsipras concluded.
It was a rebellion within his own Syriza party that prompted Tsipras to resign and call for new elections. He criticized his party for its opposition to the bailout plan, well aware that Syriza is likely to fracture during the new elections. Tsipras’ remarks today suggested he intends to run under the Syriza banner and remain titular head of the party, so it will be up to the most determined rebels to change their party affiliation or force him out. Given how many of them refused to support him on the bailout vote, he’s effectively declaring war on his own party without leaving it.
“The rumour mill is well under way, with talk suggesting that speaker of the Greek parliament Zoe Constantopoulou will join a breakaway Leftist faction. Ms Constantopoulou has been a constant thorn in the side of the PM, and is one of the most vocal critics of the new bail-out deal in the government,” the UK Telegraph said of a possible Syriza fracture. The Telegraph thought it unlikely that Tsipras’ former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis would return to the political scene and run against Tsipras.
As the Associated Press reports, Tsipras “continues to enjoy popular support and was far ahead of his opposition rivals in opinion polls, although none have been published since the bailout agreement was finalized.” He may also benefit from timing the election to occur before “voters feel the impact of the steep tax hikes and spending cuts demanded by the bailout program,” although it is a safe bet his opponents will remind the electorate that such unpleasantness is coming.
Reactions from the European community to Tsipras’ resignation were mixed. The Telegraph quotes credit ratings giant Moody’s, which only two days ago upgraded Greece’s horrible credit rating slightly, saying that the election announcement “will throw the implementation and disbursement” of the bailout program at risk.
Other analysts thought Tsipras’ resignation and the snap elections were certain to produce short-term uncertainty and economic instability, but were a necessary step toward consolidating support for the reforms and proving Greece has the political will to stick with them. European commissioners were guardedly optimistic, in contrast to their sour reaction to the referendum on austerity Tsipras arranged in the latter days of bailout negotiations, which was derided by Greece’s creditors as an ill-considered political stunt.
“The EU commission takes note of announcement in Greece,” said spokeswoman Annika Breidthardt in a Tweet, as related by the Associated Press. “Broad support for [the bailout deal] and sticking to commitments will be key for success.”
The Telegraph sums up the instability of Greece in a pithy way: “Where we stand on the numbers: Three bail-outs in five years; five elections in three years.”