Tsipras' Gamble

Why He Resigned—And Why the Ploy Will Work

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens, Greece, August 20, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

In three consecutive votes, between 30 and 40 deputies of Greece’s Syriza party voted against a three-year agreement with the European Union to exchange a series of fiscal reforms and austerity measures in return for a bailout of over 90 billion euros. Their party leader, Alexis Tsipras, and a wide coalition of pro-EU parliamentarians supported the deal. In the end, the agreement passed with 230 out of 300 votes in parliament. It cost Tsipras his majority, though, because, after the vote, 25 parliamentarians defected from his party to create a new group, Popular Unity, which is now the third biggest in the Greek parliament.

After the defection, Tsipras was faced with several unappealing options. First, he could ask for a vote of confidence in parliament, which would force the dissidents to either accept his will or vote down the country’s first left-wing government, as Syriza calls itself. According to the Greek constitution, a vote of confidence is considered successful if the government receives a simple majority of those present but not fewer than 120 votes. Tsipras abandoned such plans, though, when the dissidents indicated that they would not vote “No” but would vote “Present,” as they have the right to do.

A frayed Greek national flag flutters among antennas atop a building in central Athens, Greece July 20, 2015.
A frayed Greek national flag flutters among antennas atop a building in central Athens, Greece July 20, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters
Second, he could legislate through summer sessions. Only some members of parliament participate in summer sessions. They are selected by the parties’ leaderships, and so Tsipras and the pro-EU parties could have picked only the parliamentarians who supported the bailout choices. Throughout the summer, they could thus get to the business of enacting some of the measures specified by the EU agreement. However, even Tsipras’ loyalists did not want to be on record voting for unpopular measures just before an upcoming election (most likely in October), so that idea was cast away.

Third, Tsipras could have tried to cobble together willing opposition parties into some sort of oversize coalition or else continue to govern with a minority. He decided against that option and resigned, for two reasons. The first is that the population wouldn’

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