Charismatic Tsipras dices with self destruction

Charismatic Tsipras dices with self destruction
A defiant Mr Tsipras believes the Greek government will be at the negotiating table with its creditors after the Sunday referendum.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Over the years, Alexis Tsipras has added many feathers to his cap.

He was a passionate student activist, then a charismatic politician.

The leftist Mr Tsipras steadily rode a wave of popularity and populism to first become Greece's youngest political leader at 34, and then its youngest prime minister six years later.

Greeks call the firebrand leader a "Pallikari", a brave boy who bends his knee to no authority.

But as the country teeters on the brink of being thrown out of the euro zone, Mr Tsipras' refuse- to-blink style may just lead to an unpleasant addition to his feathery cap. The feather of self-destruction.

"We are watching the end of the political career of Alexis Tsipras," said Mr Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at Peterson Institute in Washington, in a Bloomberg Radio interview. "Mr Tsipras can continue his career on T-shirts for students, replacing Che Guevara."

This comparison is no compliment to Mr Tsipras, 40, even though it refers to his hero.

Mr Tsipras has burned through whatever goodwill he had, leaving himself with few options if voters accept Budget cuts as the cost of aid in Sunday's referendum over the imposition of austerity measures.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has flatly refused debt negotiations until the outcome of the July 5 vote, while her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Mr Tsipras has "no one else to blame" but himself for his political bind.

Even his closest and sometimes only ally in the euro zone, European Union chief Jean-Claude Juncker, has said he felt personally betrayed by the Tsipras government's behaviour, as the Premier called for the vote which blindsided Greek's creditors - the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Mr Tsipras seems undeterred. "Come Monday, the Greek government will be at the negotiating table after the referendum, with better terms for the Greek people," he said on TV, hours after Greece became the first advanced economy to default on an IMF repayment.

The assurance may be hard to digest for the Greeks, who are now reeling under the burden of unemployment, austerity and a bleak future, but who were once struck by his good looks, youthful charm and directness.

His promise ahead of January elections to bring much-needed change and hope to the crisis-stricken nation had resonated with them.

The Greeks were impressed not only by his vow to end austerity, but also by his relaxed manner of favouring open-necked shirts over a suit and tie, and riding a motorbike, not a limousine, across Athens, BBC reported.

His personal life has also been as unconventional: Mr Tsipras has two children with his partner Betty Baziana and does not believe in marriage.

The avowed atheist is Christian Orthodox Greece's first leader to swear a non-religious oath upon taking office.

He also did not baptise his children in church, according to greekreporter.com

During his first foray into city politics at the 2006 Athens mayoral polls, Mr Tsipras won over hearts with his modest, direct approach towards the electorate.

The election was a big success for the coalition Syriza party, and four years later he was chosen to lead it on a national level. It won nearly 17 per cent of the vote in polls in 2012, making Mr Tsipras leader of the second-largest party in the Greek Parliament, and a key political player.

Symbolism has also been part of his style. A few years ago, Mr Tsipras shocked the conservative country after escorting a young black immigrant to a party marking the anniversary of the 1974 fall of the junta rule, BBC reported.

As he prepares to mark his 41st birthday at the end of this month, Mr Tsipras may face another significant moment.

Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis yesterday said the government "may very well" quit if the public goes against it in Sunday's plebiscite. This is one "first" Mr Tsipras should be desperate to avoid.


This article was first published on July 3, 2015.
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