Never a dull moment in Greece. A summer full of drama, ultimately, and predictably, ended in a third Greek bailout that virtually no one really supported, but almost everyone nevertheless voted for. Outgoing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned as soon as the third bailout, which he still officially considers a national "humiliation," was safe.
His argumentation was as beautiful as it was unbelievable: "I feel the deep ethical and political responsibility to put to your judgment all I have done, successes and failures." Remember, this is the same man who initiated the GReferendum to get the Greek people's support for his opposition to a very similar deal. He then turned the resounding and unexpected 61 percent "OXI"(no) vote into a quick and deciding "NAI" (yes) to an even worse deal.
Just like the GReferendum, the new elections are not about democracy or the voice of the Greek people, they are about increasing the power of Tsipras within his own party, the increasingly misnamed Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), and within Greece. For the past eight months Tsipras has been governing against a growing part of his own party and fully dependent upon the opposition. As soon as Tsipras switched his position, and pushed through the third bailout, new elections were inevitable.
First, the current crop of Syriza MPs is strongly divided over Tsipras' moderate course and is increasingly undermining his position as Prime Minister. Second, Tsipras is governing with an unnatural coalition partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL). While ANEL was the only other party to oppose the Memorandum while supporting the Eurozone, almost all its other policies are diagonally opposed to those of Syriza -- for example, on defense, immigration, and the Orthodox Church. Third, the opposition will not continue to bail out Tsipras on any other issues, now that the third bailout is secure -- which is, ironically, what the opposition parties campaigned for and Syriza-ANEL campaigned against in the January 2015 elections.
The fact that Tsipras has called the new elections now, and wants to hold them as soon as possible, shows his Machiavellian instincts. There are several important things going for him, but they could run out soon.
First, despite making a 180 turn on his main campaign point, Tsipras is still by far the most popular politician in Greece. While no polls have been released in the past weeks, due to the holidays, earlier polls showed that just over 50 percent of Greeks approved of the terms Tsipras negotiated in the third bailout and that nearly 70 percent of Greeks wanted him to lead the country.
Second, the internal opposition is not yet organized. The day Tsipras called for new elections, 25 Syriza MPs left the party and founded a new party, Popular Unity. Led by the unofficial leader of the radical left faction, Panagiotis Lafazanis, Popular Unity wants to be the voice of the "OXI" vote, i.e. Syriza before Tsipras' "betrayal." The problem is that most Greeks are tired of fighting the EU and will fear that the new party will steer the country towards a very unpopular Grexit, an option explicitly entertained by Lafazanis.
Third, the external opposition is in disarray too. Syriza's main opponent, the right-wing and pro-bailout New Democracy (ND), lost its leader after its dramatic campaign in the GReferendum and a new leader has not yet been elected. Whoever it will be, he or she will not be able to establish him/herself as a serious opponent of Tsipras within a month. Recent polls had Syriza first at over 30 percent and ND second with under 20 percent. Given Greece's electoral system, which awards an additional 50 seats (one-sixth of the total seats in the unicameral parliament) to the largest party, this is very good news for Tsipras.
Other parties are fighting for survival. The center-right and pro-bailout To Potami (The River) polls third with a mere 6 percent, while the anti-EU neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has fallen back to fourth with 5 percent, as its whole leadership is on trial for leading a criminal organization. Most other parties hover around the 3 percent-threshold, including the pro-EU center-right Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the anti-EU Communist Party of Greece (KKE), and Syriza's former coalition partner ANEL.
Fourth, time is of the essence because the consequences of the third bailout are going to be felt very soon, not least by the electorate of Syriza. And while Tsipras will undoubtedly continue to externalize guilt, blaming Germany and the former Greek governments for leaving him "no choice", more and more Greek people will start to hold him at least partially responsible for the inevitable austerity policies.
As a consequence of all of this, the upcoming elections will not be too exciting. They might be the first Greek elections since 2007 that is not a referendum on the bailouts. But they will be a clear victory for Tsipras. Ironically, after achieving his political success on the basis of his rejection of the old parties argument that the Memorandum is a TINA issue (There Is No Alternative), Tsipras himself has become the TINA of Greek politics. The only remaining question: Will he again need a coalition partner? In the end though, it all wont matter much, as the new government, irrespective of the parties that constitute it, will be held to the conditions of the third bailout, which leaves it precious little room for political experiments.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.
________________ Cas Mudde is Associate Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.