Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Castrated Tsipras Triumphs in Greek Elections: Big Win for Neoliberalism

Elections in Greece this past Sunday, despite polls which showed a neck-and-neck race between New Democracy and Syriza, returned Alexis Tsipras as prime minister with basically the same numbers his party posted last January, a time when Syriza was the idol of most of the left in the West.

There are a number of takeaways here. Foremost, certainly neoliberals, who, back in January and February when Tsipras and Varoufakis were strutting their stuff tieless in Brussels and Berlin, counseled that the best possible outcome for all -- creditors and debtors alike -- would be for a young popular new leader like Tsipras to guide his flock into acceptance of austerity and acquiescence to the diktats of the troika, are feeling vindicated.

A sample of this feeling of vindication as registered on high is expressed in a Gray Lady editorial this morning, "Greek Voters Give Alexis Tsipras Another Go as Prime Minister." I quote it in its entirety because we have to give the neoliberal power brokers their due. They ended being spot on about Tsipras. Furthermore, while it is tempting to consign neoliberalism to the dust bin of history as an exhausted paradigm thoroughly discredited as the "dung of the devil" by no less a august personality than Pope Francis, it still has marrow left in its bones.
Eight months after electing a left-wing political outlier, Alexis Tsipras, to reject more austerity, Greek voters have resoundingly re-elected the selfsame Alexis Tsipras, only this time with a mandate to manage austerity. That could prove to be a sage choice. 
Everything depends on how Mr. Tsipras, 41, plays his newly strengthened hand. After fighting fiercely against the harsh measures sought by Greece’s creditors in exchange for another bailout, he finally caved in August. The alternative, basically to abandon the euro currency, was too frightening. That led the hard-liners in Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party to defect, and persuaded him to call a quick election
That he succeeded in getting roughly the same vote he had in January even after his surrender showed that Greeks believed in him, believed that he had given the negotiations his best shot, and still preferred his Syriza to the old-guard parties that got Greece into the mess it’s in. New Democracy, the party that according to the polls was neck and neck with Syriza, ended up a full seven percentage points behind, while the Syriza defectors, who formed their own party, failed to clear the 3 percent barrier for a single seat in Parliament. 
The good news — a relative concept in a country with very few good options in its future — is that Mr. Tsipras has the mandate and the popular trust to impose the economic measures he agreed to and to pursue the reforms Greece so sorely needs if it is to start reviving its battered economy. New Democracy would support Mr. Tsipras on austerity and reforms, giving him an insurmountable majority in Parliament. 
Mr. Tsipras himself declared that his mandate was “crystal clear” to get rid of the “wickedness and the regime of corruption and intertwined interests” embedded in Greek politics. That’s fine, but Greece also needs deregulation, privatization and further slimming of the bloated public sector, all of which runs counter to Mr. Tsipras’s left-wing ideology. 
The somewhat sardonic view among some of Greece’s creditors is that having Mr. Tsipras in the driver’s seat is still better than having the right-of-center New Democracy there, if only because he would be a far greater obstacle to reform as leader of the opposition. There is some truth to that; it was after he took charge that he realized that the realities of Greece’s [p]light trumped his ideology. 
The creditors — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — should now recognize that Mr. Tsipras is not a passing phenomenon, but the leader Greeks have seriously put their faith in. It would be in their best interest to set aside all the antipathy of the past eight months and to encourage him toward the difficult decisions he needs to make by seriously reducing the mountain of debt that is choking Greece. 
Many more trials, and many unknowns, lie ahead for the Greeks. But at least they’ve finally put some faith in a leader. It would be a shame if he and Greece’s creditors failed to take advantage of this trust.
For the left there is both good and bad in the Sunday vote. The good is that Tsipras' win was greatly diminished by it taking place during the lowest turnout election in Greek history. According to Suzanne Daley in "Alexis Tsipras Given a Second Chance by Greek Voters":
Many voters wondered whether, with the bailout deal in place giving huge oversight powers to the creditors, it really made any difference who would govern Greece. In the end, voter turnout was the lowest in Greece’s history, with only 56 percent compared with 63.6 in January.
The bad is that the Left Platform faction of Syriza, the group of lawmakers that split off from Syriza to form their own party, Popular Unity, which advocated for a return to the drachma, so underwhelmed at the polls that they will not even be represented in parliament. Turning to Suzanne Daley's latest dispatch, "Greece’s Leader Starts Big Economic Overhaul":
Perhaps the biggest losers in the election were the breakaway Syriza leftists, who formed their own party, Popular Unity, and campaigned urging a return to the drachma rather than an acceptance of new austerity measures. 
The party got so few votes that it will not even get into Parliament, leaving the former speaker of Parliament, Zoi Konstantopoulou, who is one of the country’s most ardent corruption fighters, on the sidelines.
Tsipras has recast Syriza's mission as one of fighting entrenched oligarchy and its corruption. This will prove to be more a campaign pitch than a reality. For a leader who buckled in negotiations with Brussels, there is little hope that he will be able to transform Greek society. Tsipras parliamentary majority is slimmer this go-round, and while Left Platform is gone, that does not mean that implementing the pension cuts, state asset fire sales and tax increases will be any easier for Syriza MPs to cast "Yea" votes. Daley again from "Greece’s Leader Starts Big Economic Overhaul":
[Tsipras] will need to move quickly, however, to keep the country’s creditors happy and aid flowing. In the next few months, Parliament will have to pass a mountain of legislation, in many cases measures that previous governments found too politically difficult to tackle, including higher taxes on farmers, further cuts to pensions and a stepped-up program to sell government assets. 
This alone will test anew Mr. Tsipras’s now slightly smaller majority in Parliament. But he also has to produce a budget in the next two weeks before Greece’s creditors — the other nations that use the euro, theEuropean Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — will even consider the long-term debt relief that many experts say Greece needs to get on the road to recovery. 
There is also the need to recapitalize the banks and oversee the unwinding of capital controls.
And if Greece’s financial troubles were not enough, thousands of migrants and refugees are landing here on their way to other parts of Europe. 
Greek voters gave Mr. Tsipras a solid victory, handing him 35.5 percent of the vote and 145 seats in the 300-member Parliament. He quickly announced that he would again form a partnership with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, which won 10 seats. 
Some experts, including Mr. Bastian, said they worried about the sustainability of Syriza’s very slim majority. Past governments watched their majorities shrink over time as unpopular measures came up for votes. In the previous government, Mr. Tsipras’s coalition with the Independent Greeks controlled 162 seats, though more than two dozen of those were rebellious Syriza members on the far left who broke with Mr. Tsipras over the new bailout package. 
“There are still a lot of factions in his party,” Mr. Bastian said, “and it will be hard to keep them all in line.”
Syriza under Tsipras is a cautionary tale. Much like Occupy Wall Street, many of us projected grandiose expectations for the new Greek government. Transformation of the planet-killing neoliberal paradigm seemed to be aborning (before that, a vehicle for many fantasies of rebirth was Obama 2008). But the old, rancid, destructive paradigm keeps rolling on with barely a check on its speed, something to keep in mind as we celebrate Jeremy Corbyn's new leadership of Labour or Bernie Sanders' robust assault on the S.S. Clinton.

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