With the opposition Progressive Alliance ‘Syriza’ trailing in the polls for the May 21 election, they'll need to convince their potential core left-wing voters that they are true progressives. Tspiras' controversial bailout deal of 2015, however, still hangs in the air.
ATHENS – Keeping food prices under control, raising salaries, regulating the market, protecting housing and “standing by citizens.” These are the main points of Greek Coalition of the Radical Left’s Progressive Alliance for Sunday's general elections in Greece. Better known by its abbreviation Syriza, the left-wing party has been the main opposition party for the last four years, and now has a chance to return to power.
The latest polls give a lead to the current ruling party, New Democracy (ND) led by conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Against all odds, numerous scandals seem to have left the party unaffected. Neither the news of their illegal wiretapping of journalists and politicians (including within their own ranks) with the Predator software nor the Tempe train crash tragedy that killed 57 people on February 28, 2023, or any of their numerous other scandals seem to have touched their standing.
All these scandals, which should have been the center of the electoral debate, were immediately sidelined with the news of accusations of sexual harrassment against Syriza MEP Alexis Georgoulis. The party vehemently denies having knowledge of the events, but the case is being used against them in the campaign.
Leader of the opposition, Alexis Tsipras, is trying to revive hopes for the return to "a progressive government." But among the left-wing electorate, there is no shortage of mistrust and disappointment after the so-called "betrayal" of 2015, where Tsipras accepted an international debt bailout deal — and his subsequent four years in government.
It is burden that continues to weight on a party that has stretched itself too thin trying to garner disaffected votes with its center left alliance PASOK – Movement for Change. While the Syriza-Progressive Alliance remains second in the polls, the party is conscious that many of its votes come from being the lesser of two evils. The trauma of 2015 is still present.
July 2015, starting point (and point of no return)
In July 2015, having just won the elections and with Yanis Varoufakis as his Finance Minister, Tsipras promised a referendum on whether the government should accept a deal from the European Troika triumvirate. Brussels has its head in its hands, but the promise had been made and Syriza kept its word. The Troika acted, denying Greek banks access to liquidity a few days before the referendum. It was a not-so subtle push to influence Greek citizens decision.
The showdown in Greece would become a symbol for the entire European left. Greeks weren't the only ones making decisions in 2015: Europe was debating where it wanted to go.
Erik Edman, political director of DIEM 25, created in 2018 after Varoufakis split from Syriza, recalls the importance of the events in Greece eight years ago. "Was Europe going to impose on national governments rules that undermined and destroyed their societies and their economies? At any cost?," he asked. "Or was it genuinely going to be a union of people striving for shared prosperity? That was the 2015 question, and people understood that."
Nationwide general strike on March 16, 2023 to protest against the train accident at Tempi
Undeterred by the threats coming from Brussels, in July 2015, 61% of the Greek population voted no. They did not want a new deal that would prolong the austerity that plunged them into utter poverty. Their message to the Troika and the entire European Union was clear. However, to their surprise a few weeks later, their ‘savior’ government under Tsipras agreed to a new three-year bailout plan with harsh conditions for the population.
After that, people now find it very difficult to believe in change.
Edman says the "betrayal" continues to sting "both politically and personally" Alongside Greece, the entire European left was deeply disillusioned.
"After that, people in Europe, but especially people in Greece, find it very difficult to believe in change. It was supposed to be their revolution," he recalled. "It was their big fight, and they were crushed by the very people who were supposed to represent them."
Alexandros Gotinakos, politics, participation, and representation researcher at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki noted that in 2015 everyone had their eyes on Tsipras, who had presented himself as someone outside of the mainstream. "That disappointment created the idea, both in Greece and in the rest of Europe, that if Syriza had not succeeded in standing up to Troika, then no one could."
Political scientist Elias Dinas, head of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Italy, believes what happened is clear: "In 2015 Syriza had to choose between being a party that would change Europe or becoming a moderate center-left party that could get votes from the moderate population," Dinas said. "Tsipras always played both sides, he couldn't decide. So in the end he didn't achieve anything."
First 50 days
The next four years were not easy. Tsipras’ government faced daily attacks from the right as well as disappointment from the left. The deal plunged Greece into systemic poverty from which it struggled to emerge. "Syriza polarized the elites and public opinion from its beginning. When you win an election after having been in opposition, everything becomes much more difficult," said Dinas.
If he wins again, Tsipras pledges a 50-day plan (twice as fast as the usual "first 100 days") of policy action. It's a program structured around six focal points: a new energy policy, raising wages, supporting the welfare state, productive restructuring, strengthening the democratic system and responding to demographic challenges.
We are better prepared to govern and lead the country.
Dimitrios Papadimoulis, Vice President of the European Parliament and head of the Syriza-Progressive Alliance Eurogroup said the party is far more experienced than in 2015. We are "better prepared to govern and lead the country to a fairer society and a more responsible democracy, " he said.
Papadimoulis says he trusts Alexis Tsipras and his ability to unite both the Greek and European left to make it stronger: "If we do not want the extreme right to take over Europe, countries have to form broad progressive coalitions."