What’s at Stake in Greece’s Election on Sunday
On Sunday, September 20th, 2015, Greek citizens will go to the polls to elect a new government after Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras resigned on August 20th, 2015. This was following his introduction to the recently negotiated bailout to the Greek government days prior to his resignation.
The election centers around Greece’s economic crisis, and how it intends to pay back its foreign debt to international creditors. What is interesting with regards to these elections is that, on the surface, it looks as if Greece has to decide between a leftist government (who has spoken against austerity and cutting of various social programs), and the New Democracy party, which is more conservative and more open to challenge some of Syriza’s prior statements about the economy. However, upon further inspection, it is evident that there may not be a great deal of different between how the two sides may approach the economy. With a third bailout agreed to in the summer, there are a number of conditions that the European Union countries leading the bailout have placed on Greece. Plus, others such as the International Monetary Fund are also expecting significant economic reform in the country in order to ensure that Greece is on track to pay back its debt.
And as John Psaropoulos of Al Jazeera explains, both sides have been quite clear that leaving the European Union (and dismissing the Euro) will not be a part of their policy agenda. Thus, it remains difficult to see how much room either side will have (if elected) to actually bring about substantial economic reform that does not involve continued cuts to government spending. This may be particularly troubling for Syriza given that they came to power by challenging the austerity measures that foreign lenders have been calling for.
It is also worth noting that there does exist another alternative (albeit one that may not have a realistic chance of receiving a high vote percentage). This is the Popular Unity, who is comprised of those who left Syriza. Popular Unity has been critical of any possibility of effective economic growth as long as Greece stays within the Eurozone, particularly given the conditions placed on Greece by creditors. For example, speaking on this issue, Kostas Lapavitsas, who is a candidate for Popular Unity was quoted as saying that “The debt ends up shaping the entire economic policy of Greece, and that policy means austerity and liberalisation, privatisation and so on…”. He went on to say that “[t]hat’s a dead end for Greece… That’s the logic of no growth” (Psaropoulos, 2015). They have also been critical of private banks, instead arguing that nationalization would the way to effectively grow the economy, with the government focusing on smaller businesses (as well as middle-sized ones) instead of larger businesses (Psaropoulos, 2015).
It will be interesting to see who comes out winning the elections, but even more so, how much room they actually have to implement their policies, particularly if Syriza controls the government, given its history of criticizing austerity measures.