Tsipras Shirks Responsibility, to Call Early Elections

How many mandates does the Greek leader need before he will do what needs to be done?

German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras in Berlin, March 24
German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras in Berlin, March 24 (Bundesregierung)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to resign on Thursday and call early elections that should give him a fresh mandate to face off a rebellion inside his far-left Syriza party.

He doesn’t need one.

Tsipras got two mandates from Greek voters this year, the first in parliamentary elections in January when Syriza fell only two seats short of an overall majority and the second in July when his government overwhelmingly won a referendum on the terms of its last bailout.

Granted, those mandates were to do the opposite of what Tsipras has done: to reject the demands of Greece’s creditors for economic reforms in return for financial support. But his original promise — that Greece could cancel austerity and still get aid — was false in the first place and polls show another election would deliver more or less the same result as the one in January.

The reason for calling early elections then seems the same as for calling the referendum in July: Tsipras is unwilling to take responsibility for his actions and eager to transfer that responsibility to the Greek electorate.

Voters may have given him a mandate to renege on Greece’s commitments under its previous bailout program but they never gave him a mandate to exit the euro. Those expectations were irreconcilable and Tsipras should never have pretended otherwise. Other European countries made clear in advance of both the January elections and the July referendum that Greece could only continue to get the financial support and stay in the eurozone if it continued to liberalize its economy.

Tsipras finally came to terms with reality after the referendum, agreeing to a package of comprehensive economic and political reforms in return for a third bailout, worth €85 billion.

Some in his Syriza party, however, insist Greece can have its cake and eat it too. Around a third of its lawmakers voted against the terms of the bailout which only passed with support from opposition parties.

Short of persuading his members, a responsible leader would give rebels in his party a choice: support the government or bring it down. Syriza’s rebels are prepared to do neither. And rather than risk responsibility for splitting his party by forcing the issue, Tsipras is once again asking Greek voters to bail him out.

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