The Volatile State of Greek Politics

Syriza's Struggles and the Risk of a Snap Election

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech at the ruling Syriza party central committee in Athens, Greece, February 11, 2017. Michalis Karagiannis / Reuters

Every year in early September, Greece kicks off its political season with an address from the prime minister at the start of the Thessaloniki International Fair. This year was no different. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras opened the event with an optimistic talk about the recovering economy, and how Greece would soon “graduate” from the bailout agreements. He claimed that his government had acquired valuable experience from overseeing austerity programs and had learned from its mistakes in managing the debt crisis. Thus, according to Tsipras, “now is not the time to entrust Greece’s fate to the opposition”—the parties that he claims created Greece’s continuing socioeconomic crisis.

A week later, as the fair neared its end, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the main opposition party, the center-right New Democracy (ND), rebutted Tsipras. The prime minister, his opponent argued, was not telling the Greek people the truth about the country’s problems, which will extend well beyond Greece’s exit from the bailouts, due in August 2018. Instead, he was pursuing an opportunistic agenda to cling to power. But ND, Mitsotakis argued, does speak the truth: that more reforms, lower taxes, and hard work were necessary to get the economy growing again. 

Although the Greek elections are theoretically scheduled for 2019, Greek politics are volatile and an election could come much sooner. The Tsipras administration could decide to call for an early vote if Syriza is polling well and if the Greek economy is showing signs of recovery. Moreover, early elections in 2018 would open up an opportunity for the government to capitalize on the symbolic event of exiting the third bailout program. If the winner of such an election manages to form a government then things will be relatively straightforward. But if the parties were to fail to form a coalition, Greece would have to hold another election a month later, only this time with pure, proportional representation. And given the fragmentation of the Greek party system, the cooperation of the two main parties,

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