Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has shown no mercy in axing left-wing cabinet colleagues in order to implement the austerity measures that saw a quarter of his MPs desert him and violence flare in the streets of Athens.
Only by silencing his critics can he hope to introduce the tax hikes, labour reforms and privatisations which were ordered by the Troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) but are anathema to most of his party. Among the nine changes, hard-left energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis was replaced by moderate Panos Skourletis, while Trifon Alexiadis became deputy finance minister after Nadia Valavani’s resignation ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
For someone hailed by many as Greece’s first frank, fearless and forthright leader, Mr Tsipras is showing a remarkably Machiavellian streak. Within the past few days, his pledge to quit in the face of a parliamentary revolt evaporated with the alacrity of earlier promises to protect the country’s crippled economy from further austerity measures. Pundits say his resolve comes from a new conviction that a Grexit would be more catastrophic for his country than was previously imagined.
But despite the political and economic chaos, Mr Tsipras remains popular among many Greeks who see him as less corrupt than previous leaders, and prepared to battle for his country. His rhetoric, painting Greece as a small country fighting for survival against merciless international powers, has struck a chord. “I’m proud to be here to fight for the future of my country,” he said. “Against us there are great forces. We are a little country battling for our rights. We’ve managed to give the whole world a lesson in dignity.”
Polls suggesting Syriza still has the support of 38 per cent of the public have bolstered Mr Tsipras’s resolve, and news that the banks look set to reopen on Monday, thanks to some emergency liquidity, has provided a welcome respite.
But with a rebellion under way in Syriza and new austerity measures – tax hikes in particular – due to hit an economy that has already shrunk by 25 per cent in the past five years, Mr Tsipras knows he has a Herculean task ahead of him.
Former finance minister and darling of the far left Yanis Varoufakis was more damning than ever in his criticism of the bailout deal. “This programme is going to fail whoever undertakes its implementation,” he said. Mr Tsipras’s response so far has been to tell left-wing critics: “You’ve not come up with an alternative.”
Some on the left who berated the bailout agreement during Wednesday’s stormy debate declined to attack Mr Tsipras, and went on to vote for the proposals. But such a large number of defections – 38 of his 149 MPs –robbed Mr Tsipras of his government majority, and many believe a new coalition or even a snap election is now likely.