Greece's Syriza: From marginal leftists to austerity challengers

GMT 09:49 2015 Saturday ,17 January

Arab Today, arab today Greece's Syriza: From marginal leftists to austerity challengers

An election poster hangs in front of the campaign kiosk
Athens - AFP

Voters gathered around a smartly-dressed candidate from Greece's anti-austerity party Syriza in an affluent Athens suburb asking the question everybody wants answered: Will the country go bust?
But then the Syriza candidate quickly had to field what's proving another tricky question for his party ahead of next week's elections: Do they have a united plan?
Ever since the once-marginal movement stormed to the forefront of the Greek political scene, spurred by anger and poverty, speculation has swirled over what Syriza would do once in power.
The coalition of social democrats, former Marxists and Trotskyists enjoys a lead of around three points in the polls and Syriza says it has come to end what it calls the depredations of dead-end austerity.
"Hope is coming," is the party's inaugural campaign message.
"Five years of destruction and fear have led nowhere. Enough is enough."
The outgoing government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras portrays Syriza as foolhardy risk-takers who could destroy the country's hard-gained credibility with its EU-IMF creditors and push it out of the eurozone.
The leftists dismiss these warnings.
"The only thing they have not said is that Syriza will round up children and steal wives," the party's 40-year-old leader, Alexis Tsipras, jibed at a rally this week in northern Greece.
"My party is neither a monster nor a threat to Europe. Instead it is the voice of reason," Tsipras wrote in an article in last Sunday's Die Welt, titled "Greeks to the rescue".
But because of the plethora of political views within Syriza, there has been concern over the party's ability to steer a clear course once in power.
- Party more 'pragmatic' now -
Syriza lawmaker Pangiotis Kouroublis, a former socialist MP, says the party has become more "pragmatic".
"Syriza will have to conform to European demands. They dare not lead the country to bankruptcy," agrees Panagiotis Petrakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens.
But should the leftists seek to renegotiate the EU-IMF bailout "this would be time-consuming and have an impact on the country's economic growth and liquidity," he adds.
Syriza maintains that Greece's public debt -- over 320 billion euros ($378 billion) and a whopping 175 percent of national output -- is holding back efforts to bounce back from a six-year recession and should be partly erased.
"We call for the restructuring of the debt so that it can be serviced in a socially viable way," Tsipras said in a televised interview this week.
The plan "includes erasing most of the debt," he told Star TV.
In reference, Tsipras has frequently pointed to the London Conference that forgave Germany a major share of its own debts in 1953.
The leftist party intends to spend 12 billion euros on boosting the country's recovery, utilising European structural support funds and money already earmarked by the EU for bank aid.
This includes three billion euros over the next year to boost employment in a country where one in four are out of work as a direct consequence of the austerity cuts.
"Four years of reforms did not make the debt viable or promote reforms," says Rena Dourou, the Syriza governor of greater Athens who took over the post after local elections in May.
"If someone is going to destroy the EU, it's not Tsipras.... It is fiscal policies that buttress the euro and teach children to give Nazi salutes," she told AFP.
"The EU cannot survive without social cohesion," she said.
The leftists have pledged to raise the minimum wage to 751 euros, from 580 euros currently, and create 300,000 jobs in the public and private sectors.
"We know that the first 100 days of government will be difficult," says Kouroublis. "But across Europe, it is increasingly becoming apparent that a discussion is needed on the pointlessness of austerity."
Syriza maintains that Greece's creditors will agree to renegotiate the terms of the country's multi-billion euro bailout when faced with a leftist government elected with a strong popular mandate.
"We will beat the drum and they will dance, not the other way round," Tsipras told supporters in a recent speech in central Greece.
Syriza also proposes trimming Greece's large army, banning the use of riot police and tear gas during street protests, and drastically liberalising the country's tough policy on immigration.

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