ATHENS, Greece -- Before Greeks head to the polls Sunday to elect a new government and prime minister, the leader of To Potami, or "The River," Stavros Theodorakis, tells HuffPost Greece that his party will emerge as the third pole the country direly needs.
To Potami was founded relatively recently, in the Spring of 2014, by Theodorakis, who until then had been a well-known television journalist. The party managed to win two seats in the European Parliament in last year’s election and finished fourth in Greece's January 2015 national election with 6.1 percent of the vote. The party’s ideology is a mix of liberal and social-democrat principles.
The most recent polls show Syriza, former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' party, and its main rival New Democracy are leading neck-and-neck ahead of Sunday’s elections, increasing the likelihood of a coalition government. The polls predict To Potami will get about 4.5 percent of the vote.
You said during the campaign, “If we get 10 percent we will be heard.” Is that the ideal result for your party?
It's not ideal, it's necessary. Our rationale is that there should be a big third pole which will push either Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party or Vangelis Meimarakis of the New Democracy party towards the right direction. Who can trust Alexis Tsipras and his partners today? Who can believe that Meimarakis and New Democracy will solve the problems of the party tomorrow if they collaborate with PASOK? A new third power has to emerge to help shape developments.
Who do you feel closer to, New Democracy or Syriza?
I can't tell you that. Not because I have something to hide, but because I don't trust either of them. I am afraid that Syriza might split again in a few months, over some bill. And I am afraid that New Democracy will be a populist party once more -- saying “let the time go by as we do nothing” -- like they have been doing in the past few years.
If you were the coalition government partner, would you accept Tsipras or Meimarakis as prime minister?
Prime ministers are elected. The leader of the party that comes in first has to be prime minister, unless he doesn't want to.
Could a government composed of parties with such different political programs really function? Would you be pleased with that?
I did not go into politics to be pleased nor because it is easy. But I came to realize that To Potami with 6 percent of the general vote had a great impact towards the right direction. We made a contribution to keeping the country in the euro. At the crucial moment when we could have created a block against the choices of Syriza, we were the first ones who said we were going to come to an agreement with Alexis Tsipras to keep the country in Europe, and then the other parties followed suit.
You didn't feel that you were compromising on your ideas back then?
Yes, we did. We made compromises but we did not sell out, we were not bought. We did what we had to. If you can do so much with 6 percent, imagine what you can do with 10 percent. I want us to be a big third power. Not the old establishment and not Golden Dawn [Greece’s extremist far-right party].
Polls right now don't seem to back you up, though...
Polls tell their own truth at this moment. We don't question them, but they show us polling very low. We’ve been in this position before, in the previous pre-election period, but we think that we will get our voters to come together in the last week.
But if people don't come to us, it will be a message to all of us, and me personally, and I will have to draw the necessary conclusions.
We made compromises but we did not sell out. We were not bought."
Do you think there’s a chance Greece will get a national unity government after this vote?
I am not in favor of it because usually, in Greece, national unity governments end up adopting the least common denominator. Everyone does something small but nobody does something big.
You seem to think it's necessary to have technocrats serving in the government in order for the bailout agreement with the creditors to be implemented. But we have seen, in Italy for example, that the people didn’t welcome that model. Is it a matter of technocrats or a matter of policies?
I don't believe in someone who comes from the outside and takes over a sector because they have some knowledge of it. I believe in expert politicians, who know the subject they take on well -- people who are knowledgeable, but who do have a political orientation. They don't necessarily need to have been members of parliament, although they could. An actor cannot solve the social security issue, no matter how good his intentions may be. In Greece, we allow politicians to experiment a lot and we have paid a heavy price for it. I do feel that the government should not be made up out of people who are anxious to get re-elected.
Are your party’s members going to be able to cope?
Our party doesn’t just consist of “nice kids.” We know that there is an old political system which we resist in many ways -- when I say political, I mean a media system, a corporate system. We have shown that we are both willing and able to fight these attitudes. We are not good Samaritans. We are tough enough to take over the old system. We know the job.
Will To Potami remain united if it finds itself in government and is faced with new austerity measures?
When we got into parliament with 17 MPs [Members of Parliament], we proved that we have a very solid political group, maybe more solid than anyone else when it comes to producing ideas. There is no doubt in my mind that the new parliamentary group of our party will have a common direction.
We are not good Samaritans. We are tough enough to take over the old system."
You have been critical of the tradition in Greece that politicians could only grow amid and with the support of party hierarchies. But are party mechanisms really the problem?
The biggest problem in this country are the old parties of the crisis. Take a look at the government of Vassiliki Thanou, the current head of the caretaker government. She’s a judge and in just one week she put together a government that is better than the party governments of two previous prime ministers.
I am not saying that this government hasn’t made any bad choices, but the previous governments were certainly bad because of the parties, because of their hierarchy, because of the fact that they make decisions based on party principles and party image. We are against this party system in all its expressions.
Alexis Tsipras lost half his party...
Tsipras’ failure proves my point. At some point, pressed by reality, Tsipras said “yes” to Europe while his party, which is cut off from Greek society, insisted on saying “no.” It has been a personal weakness of Mr. Tsipras. If you want to govern the country you have to be able to govern your party.
Some argue that Tsipras' party was in power for just seven months and that the political parties who were in power for 40 years before him also share blame in the current crisis. Is it right to lump them together?
Both New Democracy and PASOK should take enormous responsibility, because the crisis is also a product of their choices. They destroyed the economy and they imposed this logic of party domination. Under no circumstance does criticizing Alexis Tsipras let them [Syriza] off the hook. Beyond that, though, Tsipras is responsible for two things. Firstly, he did not realize what the crisis meant. It existed before he came to power and if he had talked to the right people in Europe he would have grasped the problem. Secondly, he copied bad elements of the old parties, which is especially painful for a young politician. I could forgive ignorance or the fact that he was deceived, but I cannot understand why, instead of appointing new people to important positions, he placed his own people and his coalition partners.
How do you think the refugee problem should be handled?
In the past months, the government was laying in the sun while the islands were facing serious problems. I was there. I was in Lesbos. The island was suffocating. While five Syriza ministers were congratulating each other for having transferred 176 immigrants from the Pedio tou Areos park to the temporary refugee camp in Eleonas, Lesbos was in despair.
The refugee crisis is huge, so if To Potami was in power we would have exposed the issue to Europe in the first place. Cooperating with Europe's border agency, Frontex, registering people at the border and on ships or on Turkish soil -- all those could have been some possible solutions. That being said, we believe solutions should come primarily from Europe. The wave was coming, we could see it. Why is the number of immigrants rising and the number of traffickers we arrest is dropping? Greece should have been adamant about the subject of migration flows. Go after the traffickers, strike an agreement with Turkey, stop the migration flows there, like it was happening before when we were having some kind of negotiation.
And we should have had shelters from the day Syriza won the elections...
They decided to turn some camps into shelter centers 20 days ago. Why didn't they do it in May? Why in the middle of the tourist season when the islands were ruined and there were no ships to transfer people straight to these hospitality centers?
Let's say that shelters are a temporary solution. What's next?
I think I am clear. The European Union, the United Nations, the U.N.'s Refugee Agency need to take over and settle these issues. When our party got into parliament, and we were talking about the U.N. and Frontex being everywhere, we were attacked both from the left and the right. Registering thousands of immigrants is not a local authorities matter, it should be done by Frontex, they should send people. We have suggested solutions. Things still would not have been ideal, since the problem is huge, but we wouldn't have lived this insult which both the refugees and our islands went through. Do you think that with the kind of negative exposure that Kos, for example, is getting, rich tourists will come visit?
Finally, personally do you feel oppression in politics? Have you had to compromise with what we call “politically correct speech”?
Not yet. I am still doing what I wanted to do in politics. But I realize that the time of compromise is near, that's why I told a friend who asked: Vote for To Potami while it is still innocent. It will not always be like that because at some point you have to start winning through compromises. It's the law of nature, adapting to a negative environment. So far, we have made it, we don't have big economic needs, we haven't built offices in the whole country, so we are not dependent, we are still innocent.
This interview originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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