As Popularity Sinks, Tsipras Admits Coalition Possible

Greece’s far-left leader, Alexis Tsipras, admits he might only return to power at the head of a coalition.

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades shakes hands with Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias in Nicosia as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on, February 2
Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades shakes hands with Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias in Nicosia as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras looks on, February 2 (Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Greek far-left leader Alexis Tsipras opened the door to a coalition government on Monday but insisted that a deal could only be done on his Syriza party’s terms.

“What are they going to do,” he said of the other parties, “leave the country without a government?”

Forming a coalition may be easier now that Tsipras has abandoned his take-no-prisoners attitude in negotiations for another bailout. Whereas his Syriza party won January’s election on promises to cancel the austerity measures on which Europe’s financial support is conditioned, he capitulated in July and agreed to enact economic and political reforms in return for a third, €86 billion rescue package.

Greece desperately needed the money to contain a bank run and stave off sovereign default which could have triggered its ejection from the eurozone.

The surrender divided Syriza. Dozens of the party’s 149 members refused to back the bailout plan in parliament, forcing Tsipras to rely on the very establishment parties he disparaged only last month.

At the time, he ruled out a coalition with “parties from the old political system,” such as PASOK, Greece’s once-dominant social democrat party.

But if polls for the election later this month — called by Tspras in an attempt to shore up his popularity — are accurate, the Syriza leader would be unable to find a majority without it as well as the more centrist, pro-European To Potami.

Tsipras still rejects the possibility of governing with the conservative New Democracy party, saying on Monday it and Syriza were “like day and night.”

New Democracy ruled in coalition with PASOK between 2012 and January this year. It has been Syriza’s fiercest critic in parliament, accusing Tsipras of gambling Greece’s future in the euro.

In an interview on Monday, New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis called Tsipras a “kiddo” and “a little liar” and said the referendum the prime minister called in July on Greece’s bailout terms had been “useless, irrelevant and divisive.”

Although Tsipras got more than 60 percent support in the plebiscite to reject the European Union’s demands, he accepted them days later.

Meimarakis, an easygoing apparatchik who only took over as leader in July when Antonis Samaras, the former prime minister, stepped down, is now seen as more trustworthy than Tsipras, according to one poll that put his popularity at 44 percent against 42 percent for the leftwinger.

As recently as this summer, more than 70 percent of Greeks said they preferred Tsipras to lead the Balkan nation.

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