ATHENS – Trying to reverse a freefall in polls after repeatedly reneging on anti-austerity promises, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras named a top loyalist, Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, as General Secretary of the embattled ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
Skourletis had just taken over as well as Citizen’s Protection Minister after Nikos Toskas was forced out in the aftermath of the government’s disastrous response to July 23 wildfires that killed 97 people.
The naming of Skourletis, a staunch defender of Tsipras’ breaking of promises to help workers, pensioners and the poor, was seen as a preliminary to another Cabinet shakeup before the Premier speaks Sept. 8 at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), where he’s expected to offer handouts or measures offsetting austerity.
Addressing SYRIZA’s central committee, Tsipras said “we need a strong party, united and open to society,” as 2019 will be a “year of great battles,” said Kathimerini, a reference to an election year with polls required to be held by October but a chance it could be sooner.
“The end of the memorandum marks the end of a political cycle for SYRIZA,” he said, referring to the Aug. 20 expiration after eight years of three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($380.42 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) and the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) that came with big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions, the sale of state assets, diluting of workers rights, and cutting the minimum wage.
He took a shot at people who aren’t blindly loyal to him and who questioned his backtracking on pledges to defy the creditors and roll back the austerity measures, saying they put “personal strategies,” ahead of their party.
He said SYRIZA faces “stabilizing” its political agenda and leaving “behind forever the political forces of bankruptcy,” without mentioning his role in reversing essentially everything he said he would do but didn’t.
Tsipras said the next elections, with the party he unseated, the major rival New Democracy Conservatives having a big lead, would be the “mother of all battles,” and called for his supporters to rally around and bring together “all those who do not accept a return of the old regime to power.”
An anti-nationalist, he also defended his decision to make a deal to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) be renamed North Macedonia, keeping the name of an ancient abutting Greek province, and for its citizens to be called Macedonians and have a Macedonian culture and identity.
That cost him the backing – only on that issue – of his junior coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos who said he will take his party out of the government if it comes to a vote in Parliament.
Tsipras also took credit for the release of two Greek soldiers who were released earlier in August after being held in Turkey since March 1 for accidentally crossing the border while in patrol in bad weather.
New Democracy officials essentially laughed in his face in response, continuing to mock him as a hypocrite and incompetent and who called him “unrepentant” and “divisive” for Greece.
“Mr. Tsipras is probably the last Greek who only sees successes in his government since January 2015,” said New Democracy spokesperson Maria Spiraki, adding that he “refused once again to take any responsibility for anything.”
Referring to the government reshuffle and the changes within SYRIZA, Spiraki said that no matter who is brought in, “Tsipras can no longer convince anyone.”