HUFFINGTON POST

Greek Debt Crisis Spotlights Syriza's Growing Pains

Tsipras may consider resignation if his party fails to secure enough votes for reforms this week

ATHENS -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' reshuffling of his cabinet on Friday after several ministers rejected a bill outlining new austerity measures brings into sharp focus the deepening ideological rift within his left-wing Syriza party over harsh reforms demanded by international creditors in exchange for a new bailout.  

"Today's result is a serious divide in the unity of Syriza's parliamentary group," said former government representative Gabriel Sakellarides, who was among the eight ministers and deputies who were reshuffled after Thursday's parliament vote on the first part of the financial reforms. Two ministers who voted against the reforms were replaced.

Syriza now faces contradictory pressures to preserve its left-leaning identity while sorting through the unrelenting demands of the debt crisis.

"The safety of ideological pureness is not compatible with moments of crisis,” Tsipras said in a TV interview last week.

The austerity bill secured 229 votes in favor, 64 against and six abstentions. It was members of Tsipras' own Syriza party who were in large part responsible for the votes against the proposal. Of Syriza's 149 members of parliament, 32 voted against the bill and six abstained. 

The core of the dissent came from the Left Platform faction, a group of left-wing hardliners that includes Panagiotis Lafazanis, who was minister of energy and environment, and Dimitris Stratoulis, who was deputy social security minister. Other prominent Syriza parliament members who voted against the measure included Zoe Konstantopoulou, the president of the parliament, and Yanis Varoufakis, the flamboyant former finance minister. 

The rift shows a possible break in the party, which came into power this year with the election of Tsipras.

“If Syriza goes through with the bailout agreement to the end, then it runs the risk of mutating into something completely different to principles,” Lafazanis, leader of the Left Platform, said over the weekend. Writing for major Greek newspaper Ta Nea, he added that if Syriza's leaders “try to apply this bailout memorandum in practice, then [...] the country is sure to find itself in an even worse position than now.”

The Left Platform base apparently supports a break from Syriza, possibly establishing themselves as a distinct party, according to Greek newspaper EFSYN.   

 

 It's unclear whether Tsipras will be able to transform Syriza into a full-fledged ruling party once his new cabinet settles, or whether Greece is headed for early elections. 

If the Left Platform decides to break away, elections are certainly in order, HuffPost Greece reports. Ethnos newspaper reports that Tsipras is considering new elections, which could take place in September or October.

The critical test will be the upcoming second part of the financial reforms bill, due for a vote on Wednesday. The bill includes a new code of civil procedure to accelerate the judicial process and reduce costs. Other reforms, such as the phasing out early pensions, raising the minimum retirement age to 67, and phasing out preferential tax treatment for farmers, probably will be discussed, but not voted on because of widespread dissent.

If Syriza fails to secure a threshold of 120 votes this week, Tsipras may consider stepping aside, even though reform measures might still pass with help from opposition votes.  

Syriza's contradictory pressures to preserve its left-leaning identity while sorting through the unrelenting demands of a debt crisis have never been more obvious.

"The safety of ideological pureness is not compatible with moments of crisis,” Tsipras said in a TV interview last week.

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