Athens, August 17, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Zacharias Petrou
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to play down speculation about early elections on Tuesday.
“I hear about these scenarios and I read about them,” Tsipras told reporters. “Now that the country is coming back on track, that the economy is gradually recovering, that unemployment is de-escalating, whoever thinks of elections is foolish. Whoever asks for them is twice as foolish.”
Political analysts point out that Tsipras’s comments are rather odd and unprecedented during a mid-August holiday week that is usually very lean on political news.
Government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili made similar comments on Tuesday, rejecting the idea of snap polls.
“We will continue our work unhindered and keep on implementing our program until 2019, which is what Greek citizens have voted for us to do,” she said.
Meanwhile, main opposition New Democracy spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos picked up on the Prime Ministers’ comments and “welcomed” Tsipras’ “re-emergence after 15 days of summertime silence.”
According to Koumoutsakos, “Mr. Tsipras’ anxiety and irritation isn’t due to press reports but to the impasses that have amassed from his own policy.”
The New Democracy spokesman reiterated that the conservative party demands early elections in order to solve the problems created by the government’s policies.
Reports in the Greek press suggest that talk of an early election being held in the autumn were in part sparked by the Prime Ministers’ decision to revive Greek demands for wartime reparations from Berlin.
“Greece will do whatever is necessary diplomatically first and then, if necessary, on the legal level, so that this historical debt is paid,” Alexis Tsipras told an event in memory of 317 Greeks slaughtered by Nazi troops in in 1943.
It is also pointed out by analysts and Greek media that difficult negotiations with creditors coming up in the autumn will largely determine whether or not the PM will be tempted to call an early election.
Especially the negotiations on labor relations are seen as crucial. If the government fails to withstand pressure from creditors to liberalize the labor market (reduction in payroll costs for employers; greater mass layoffs without labor ministry approval; eliminating bonuses linked with the “13th” and “14th” monthly wages, etc.) the PM could be tempted to call an election to stop New Democracy’s momentum and avoid implementing the unpopular reforms.
Additionally, failure to meet the primary budget surplus goal this year will mean activation of the automatic spending cuts mechanism; an event with serious economic and political implications that may also force Tsipras’ hand.