Three times in nine months Alexis Tsipras placed high risk bets. And he won all three of them.
The first bet was the election of last January, which he caused by short-circuiting the election of the President of the Republic by the Parliament. The wise choice would have been to let Samaras' government complete the enforcement of the second Greek memorandum and thus pay the political cost of the last installment of austerity measures. The election would have come around a few months later, SYRIZA would have won handily. The party would have its hands untied, sailing on calm waters. Instead, he opted for winning his first election with the program up in the air, negotiations in flux and the financing of the Greek economy in doubt. His opponents believed that he was walking, mindlessly, towards his own destruction, that the cost of negotiations would shatter him and that his government would prove to be no more than a parenthesis. He proved them wrong.
The second bet was the referendum of last July. Greece went to the ballots, with its banks shut down and under the threat of a Grexit, to dismiss a deal with the European partners and accept a different one, another day. Tsipras won the referendum because he managed to convince the electorate that the vote wasn't in reality about a deal or being part of the Eurozone but about himself. It was a vote of confidence in his person, a verification that Greeks prefer Tsipras, even when he makes mistakes and takes big financial risks (on behalf of the Greeks themselves), rather than seeing the return of the old political world that had rushed to all cram themselves behind the "yes" ballots.
The third bet was this Sunday's election. Tsipras chose to solve an intraparty problem, to face an intraparty mutiny, not in the usual arena of intraparty procedure (in a conference) but by making the electorate be the judge. He asked for a new vote of confidence, in two months, that would simultaneously be a vote of approval of the new deal with the European lenders. It seemed too much of a risk. To be exact, he was in danger of losing to a suddenly defragmented New Democracy party not because his opponent would have won over him but because he would have been abandoned by large portions of disheartened voters. Indeed: about 800.000 of last January's voters -- Angry? Desperate? Disenfranchised? -- did not return to the September ballots. But SYRIZA won anyway. It managed to crush its intraparty opponents in a manner more definitive than any intraparty process. It managed to beat New Democracy, which proved to be a more worthy opponent than expected, and it managed to to elicit a clear mandate to implement the agreement it signed with its opposition actually consenting.
It is along these lines that Alexis Tsipras is coming out of the ballots triumphant and a master of the political game. But he is not the same. He is Tsipras 2.0.
- He won the election by percentages nearing those of January. But back then he had won the election at an Allegro Maestoso tone; now he has won in tone Andante Cantabile. Then he had won as a beacon of hope, which had lit fireworks of enthusiasm, especially in the first months of his government. Now he has won as a guarantor of stability politics, "stealing" at the last moment the slogan of his conservative opponent.
- He won the election because, in the end, his ambivalent and disheartened voters, decided to give him a second chance, though his silver armor showed visible cracks.
- He won the election, his third bet, like he asked and was granted a third wish from the ballot genie. Alexis is now alone, without the power of magic, he must prove that, apart from a risk-taking gambler and charismatic claimant of elections, he can also be an effective manager of a government that has 10 months to perform a miracle. He must manage to guide his government and the country through the desert of the new memorandum and, at the same time, effectively negotiate the matter of the debt, manage the refugee crisis and design a program of fundamental change for the nation and productive reform for the Greek economy.
Quite a tall order indeed. But, if he manages it, he will emerge into a fully-fledged leader. If not...
This post first appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English