Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Greek elections for June are on. After failure of talks Sunday with the conservative New Democracy (ND) Party, the social-democratic Pasok Party and the left coalition Syriza, President Karolos Papoulias had made an attempt to bring ND, Pasok and the rightwing Independent Greeks Party together to form a government. But, like Syriza, the Independent Greeks also rejected the current EU/IMF austerity policies.

Euronews video report: Greece could say goodbye to the euro 05/14/2012

Syriza under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras is likely to gain an even larger percentage of the vote in June than in May, according to recent polls. As an actual leader of the left - Syriza is similar in its approach to the German Left Party - Tsipras is a fright to journalists and commentators used to tame neoliberal representatives of the "center-left" like Tony Blair. Andy Denwood profiles Tsipras in Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza BBC News 05/14/2012:

17-year-old Alexis led the occupation of his high school, with pupils living, eating and sleeping in their classrooms, guarding the doors and cleaning the school for several months.

Matthew Tsimitakis, then a pupil at another Athens school, remembers meeting the young Alexis Tsipras at the height of the action.

"He struck me as very intelligent, calm, passionate but also very aware - he could represent the balance of a few hundred thousand kids who weren't very sure of what they were demonstrating about."

"I think it has something to do with the fact that he was a member of the communist youth, and was used to dealing with this kind of situation."
Forget Willard Romney the high school bully; this guy was a Communist in high school! I'm sure David Brooks is having nightmares already.

There is a Communist Party (KKE) in Greece and it is not part of Tsipras' coalition. European parliaments helpfully seat their members by party from left to right, a pattern established by the French Revolution back in the day. This BBC News story, 15 May 2012 Last updated at 11:06 ET Share this pageEmail Print Share this page

New Greek elections as coalition talks fail - Venizelos 05/15/2012, has a Greek Parliamentary seating chart at the bottom showing, from left to right: the KKE, Syriza, Democratic Left, Pasok, ND, Independent Greeks, Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn is often described (accurately) in news stories as a neo-Nazi party.

Denwood reports that Tsipras laid the foundation for an electoral surge by Syriza with his anti-austerity position:

Over the past two years, he has repeatedly condemned government support for the Greek financial recovery plan proposed by the so-called "troika" - the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He has insisted cutting jobs and services is a failing policy and, as international creditors demanded more job cuts and privatisation, Mr Tsipras declared "soon they will tell us to abolish democracy".

His relaxed manner has also grabbed headlines - he chooses to cross Athens by motorbike rather than the limos favoured by other Greek political leaders, and prefers open-necked shirts to a suit and tie.
His critics try to associate him with street violence in the Greek anti-austerity demonstrations. (Generally, Greek political protests have a tradition of rowdiness.) But there hardly seems to be any "smoking gun" there, metaphorically or otherwise:

But there are more serious criticisms - Mr Tsipras has also been accused of supporting violent anti-austerity demonstrators, which he denies.

Can Alexis Tsipras turn his populist message into election success - and workable policies? "He was persistent in supporting and saying that the public has the right to revolt if unfair austerity measures are imposed on them," says Dr Vassilis Monastiriotis, an expert on Greek politics at the London School of Economics.

"He didn't back off despite the fact that many people, both in the media and the political spectrum, were criticising his stance for inciting violence in the streets of Athens."
European finance ministers meeting Tuesday tried to put on a brave face and pooh-pooh talk of Greece leaving the euro. (Juncker dismisses Greek exit 'propaganda' Athens News 05/15/2012) Finance ministers are expected to say that everything is going to be all right and there won't be too many disruptions. But as the Athens News story reminds us, there is lots to be nervous about:

With the government set to run out of money as early as next month and no new government in place to negotiate the next aid instalment, investors have begun betting that a chaotic Greek default and euro exit will happen sooner rather than later.

Talk of any member exiting the eurozone used to be a taboo for policymakers. Not any more.

Over the weekend, European Central Bank policymakers Luc Coene and Patrick Honohan both openly voiced the possibility of Greece leaving the currency bloc and concluded that it would not be fatal for the eurozone.

But there are powerful incentives for keeping Greece afloat, not least that the ECB and eurozone governments are major holders of Greek government debt.

A hard default could leave them with heavy losses and if the ECB needed recapitalising as a result, that bill would also fall on its members' governments, with Germany first in line.
Euronews has this video report, Eurozone finance ministers meet amid growing fears over Greece 05/15/2012:

Even European conservatives are now making noises about "growth measures". But like Old Man Bush's, their lips need to be read carefully. For advocates of Angienomics austerity, cuts in public services and workers' pensions are "growth measures". So are tax reductions for the One Percent. Loaded buzzwords include "structural reform" (lower wages, weaker unions, cutting public services, more deregulation, lower taxes for the One Percent) and "labor flexibility" (lower wages, weaker unions, reduced employment security).

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