Greek Referendum Reveals Tsipras’ Political Cowardice

The far-left prime minister’s refusal to make a decision shows he is unfit to lead in a crisis.

Greek Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras speaks at a news conference in Brussels, September 27, 2012
Greek Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras speaks at a news conference in Brussels, September 27, 2012 (GUE/NGL)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras unexpectedly called a referendum on the country’s latest bailout offer on Sunday, exasperating his creditors who said the decision shut the door on a deal to stop the country from entering default next week.

Tsipras’ decision is one of cowardice and desperation. For months, he has tried to make good on a promise to end austerity and failed. Greece’s European Union creditors and the International Monetary Fund insist it broadly honors the program Tsipras’ predecessors committed to: a combination of spending cuts and liberal economic reforms that is designed to prevent another Greek debt crisis in the future.

The far-left premier seemed to gamble that other leaders would relent at the last minute. They didn’t. Greece appears to have overestimated the extent to which other European nations were prepared to go to keep it in the euro.

The threat of a referendum could be another last-minute ploy to try to sway European opinion. Or Tsipras is genuinely afraid to make a decision himself.

His mandate couldn’t have been clearer. Tsipras’ Syriza party came to power in January on vows to end austerity. Upon taking office, it proceeded to renegade on policy changes Greece was committed to undertake, including privatizations and labor market reforms.

But the Greeks never gave Tsipras a mandate to exit the euro. Polls show that most Greeks still believe they can unilaterally tear up the bailout and continue to get financial support from other European countries — despite countless warnings from European officials to the contrary.

There is no more time left. Tsipras either has to take his election promises to their logical conclusion and accept a Greek eurozone exit. Or he needs to tell his people that they were deluding themselves when they thought they could break their word and stay in the euro anyway.

By deferring the decision — once again — to the Greeks themselves, Tsipras reveals himself to be a coward who is unfit to lead a nation of eleven million at this time of crisis.

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