Alexis Tsipras, selfless statesman or sellout

GMT 12:44 2015 Wednesday ,22 July

Arab Today, arab today Alexis Tsipras, selfless statesman or sellout

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Athens - AFP

The jury is still out on whether Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is the man who capitulated to "blackmail" from Greece's international creditors, or pulled his country back from the abyss.

The charismatic young premier has a reputation for bold gambles, but he took one of his boldest yet on July 13 by agreeing to exactly the kind of tough economic reforms he had previously rejected.

Tsipras and his radical-left party Syriza swept to power in January on an anti-austerity ticket, accusing Greece's creditors of bringing the country to its knees through steep spending cuts.

The cash-for-reforms deal reached last week, worth up to 86 billion euros ($93 billion) over three years, includes more pain in the form of tax hikes, as well as a pensions overhaul and privatisations the government had previously opposed. Many Greeks viewed it as a humiliating climbdown.

But Tsipras -- who barely has time to eat or sleep, according to his mother -- has fiercely argued it was the only way to stop his country from crashing out of the euro and into the unknown.
"I had specific choices before me: one was to accept a deal I disagree with on many points, another was a disorderly default," he said in an impassioned appeal to parliament before a vote on the measures last week.

That vote saw a major rebellion among his own lawmakers, and Tsipras only managed to get it passed with opposition help. Outside, anti-austerity protesters lobbed petrol bombs at police. The hashtag #ThisIsACoup trended on Twitter.

Most analysts say early elections are inevitable if the Syriza mutiny continues, although a government spokeswoman insisted on Monday: "Elections are not useful at the moment, and the government has no intention of organising any."

Tsipras faces a second vote on measures tied to the bailout on Wednesday. While this bill is less controversial than the sweeping changes to Greece's taxes, pensions and labour rules that 32 Syriza MPs rejected last week, Wednesday's vote remains a crucial test of the premier's authority.

Pro-government newspaper Avgi said on Sunday that the vote would be a "crash test" that could even result in Tsipras's resignation.

"If there are new losses, in whatever form, (Tsipras) will hand back his mandate," the daily said.

- Rebel who backed down -

A fan of Che Guevara and a hater of neck-ties, 40-year-old Tsipras forged his firebrand image early in life, protesting as a teenager for students' right to skip class if they want. He met Betty Baziana -- the mother of his two boys -- at high school, when both joined the Communist Youth.
An engineer by training, Tsipras was born in the suburbs of Athens in 1974, the year that marked the collapse of a seven-year army dictatorship which mercilessly persecuted leftists and communists.

His early steps in politics were informed by hard-left positions even as he took up with different parties, winning a seat on Athens's municipal council with Synaspismos, a left-wing coalition, in 2007.

He was elected Synaspismos leader the following year, and Syriza leader in 2008, aged just 34.

In Brussels, his erratic negotiating tactics infuriated creditors, who accused the Greeks of gambling over the country's future by engaging in irresponsible brinkmanship -- notably by calling a snap referendum on the bailout, urging citizens to reject the proposals.

Despite angering many Greeks by going on to ignore their 60 percent 'No' vote, he is still overwhelmingly regarded as competent. In an opinion poll published by the To Vima newspaper at the weekend, 68 percent named him the best man to be running the country right now, far ahead of any of his rivals.
And even after the broken promises, many voters believe he acts honestly and with their interests at heart -- a break with past leaders they perceived as corrupt and beholden to powerful interests.

"With the popularity that he enjoys, with his abrupt maturing over the past couple of weeks, Tsipras has the legitimacy to implement reforms as well as the need to prove that his turnaround was justified," Nikos Konstandaras, managing editor of the Katherimini newspaper, wrote in an editorial last week.

"He will be under continual fire from his more revolutionary comrades in Syriza. However, if he keeps his head, if he avoids the arrogance of power, if he unites rather than divides, Alexis Tsipras will be in a position to serve his country well."


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