In a surprise move last week, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called a snap presidential election for December, moving it forward from its planned February date with potentially unpredictable results for the future of Greece and the eurozone.
Since claiming the Prime Minister’s chair in 2012, the head of the conservative New Democracy party, who has governed in tandem with his socialist “PA.SO.K” party counterpart, Evangelos Venizelos, has continued to pressure an overburdened Greek electorate with a mix of salary and pension cuts, tax hikes and other harsh measures. The so-called austerity “memorandum” plunged the Greek economy into a five-year recession, increased unemployment to the highest level in Europe and brought about the devastation of the country’s middle class. The result being that Samaras found himself trapped in a political dead-end, opting to speed up the election and, potentially, force the country into early national elections should the current Parliament be unable to choose a president.
The Samaras-Venizelos coalition had little choice, expecting, as it was, to receive a show of support from its European partners at a time when the country drastically cut its budget deficit and was finally able to present a growing economy. Regardless, the so-called “troika,” that is managing the Greek bailout program, continues to insist on further steps to close a paltry and disputable potential funding gap of approximately 2 billion euros for fiscal 2015 when the country’s total debt amounts to some 350 billion euros.
In fact, Germany has been prodding the Greeks to agree to a new “memorandum” in order to force any future government, most notably the radical leftist “Syriza” party, down this road. The intent being, to lock Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, who is well ahead in the polls and fervently anti-austerity, into a continuation of the status quo by removing any potential bargaining power that a convincing electoral victory could provide.
However, Samaras and Venizelos turned the tables on their European lenders with the early presidential election call, possibly forcing the Germans into direct negotiations with Tsipras who has staked his reputation on freeing the country from the clutches of the devastating “memorandum” at any cost.
Unfortunately, either Europe does not understand the level of destruction its austerity program has caused or it simply does not care. Perhaps the many European leaders, who have visited the Presidential or Prime Ministerial palaces under tight security, have not taken the time to wander around Athens and glimpse, first-hand, the rampant hunger, destitution and poverty. Perhaps they have no idea that the middle class households, that have seen their wages and pensions slashed and their tax burden jump, can barely get by.
They probably haven’t visited the orphanages and nurseries where parents send their children because they have no food to offer them nor have they have walked by Athens’ squares to observe the many desperate graduates wandering around, aimlessly and jobless, after years of university study.
They have not witnessed the thousands who put their life’s savings into a home, only to lose it all nor have they roamed the neighborhoods where hundreds of homeless Greeks and illegal aliens live in the streets, subsisting on what the soup kitchens of the Greek Orthodox Church can provide.
The Greeks are desperate, suffering for years without any hope. They are no longer frightened by the tumbling stock market and the increasing bond spreads nor by a looming national bankruptcy and a return to the Drachma. In their vast majority, they have lost everything including their self-respect and their pride but, above all, their optimism that something may change.
This explains why, should the current Parliament fail to elect a president, they will cast their vote for Alexis Tsipras and his party, not necessarily because they believe in his rhetoric, but because they have nothing left to lose.
As such, it appears that the Europeans will soon be forced to deal straightforwardly with Syriza, a party lacking in any clear economic or political program except for its refusal to continue down the path of austerity. It is there that they will find themselves face to face with the Greek reality and the indignation of a people who are no longer willing to forgo their personal dignity.
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