ATHENS – Battered by gale-force criticism from rival parties, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition face a Troika of troubles in coming weeks with battles over the Macedonia name giveaway, the country’s lagging bailout reforms and an uncertain alleged scandal charging political opponents were bribed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company.
Tsipras has plummeted in polls for two years after reneging on anti-austerity promises as the New Democracy he beat, now run by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have surged to overtake him with double-digit leads.
That has led Tsipras to claim he’s brought an economic recovery, without mentioning that, if so, it’s because he broke his word to reverse big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, worker firings and block the sale of state assets.
He’s also said Greece can’t repay its debt, including 326 billion euros ($399.84 billion) in three international rescue packages, including the last, for 86 billion euros ($105.48 billion) he said he would never seek nor accept but did both even though it came with more brutal measures such as further pension cuts and taxes on low-and-moderate-income families.
Foremost now in public attention is the so-called Novartis scandal involving charges that 10 politicians, including two former Premiers and all political rivals of SYRIZA, took 50 million euros ($61.33 million) to help the company fix market prices and have the flu shot market.
Those named have vehemently denied the accusations and accused Tsipras and his government, which includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Panos Kammenos – who broke away from New Democracy – of manufacturing a fake scandal to divert attention from the government’s woes and falling fortunes.
A parliamentary committee controlled by the government will probe the case and Mitsotakis said he would go along with that if three secret witnesses in a protection program, who haven’t been identified and were said to be changing their stories, appeared publicly and “without hoods” to show their faces and back up their charges.
A government spokesman said it was a “massive scandal” but Tsipras toned down the rhetoric when prosecutors were said to be unable to find any credible evidence of a bribery scheme and as Novartis’ former head in Greece called it a “gross farce” and fake.
There were indications that Tsipras may call early elections, which has been said a number of times previously but not borne out, but this time using the cloud over his political opponents to seize an advantage even if the scandal isn’t real.
Tsipras also is trying to deal with the fallout over FYROM, with polls showing 68 percent of Greeks oppose the name giveaway, which he has ignored in forging ahead with plans to do it anyway.
This coincides with ongoing talks with the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) over unfinished austerity measures and reforms attached to the third bailout.
The rescue packages expire in August after eight years and Tsipras’ claims of a “clean exit” have been shot down by the creditors who said the Greek economy will need at least four more years of monitoring and as he keeps pushing for debt relief.
Tsipras also agreed to automatic spending cuts if fiscal targets aren’t met and new austerity measures and tax hikes are kicking in ahead of next year’s scheduled elections, leading to speculation he may want to take his chance with voters before they are whacked again.