Tsipras’ ANEL Breakup Gambit Didn’t Impress Disbelievers

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leaves Maximos mansion following a meeting with Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in Athens, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. Greek defense Minister Kammenos, leader of the right-wing populist Independent Greeks party, is vehemently opposed to a deal with neighboring Macedonia over its state name. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS – Like many Greeks worn down by more than 8 ½ years of an economic and austerity crisis that has decimated so many lives, Efrossini, a 56-year-old private class English teacher, was less than interested in the breakup of the country’s coalition and what elections this year might bring.

“It doesn’t matter to me anymore because whatever the promises that have come from SYRIZA it has never come true,” she told The National Herald, sounding the kind of apathy that seems to have settled like a shroud over so many who believe their lives won’t get better no matter who wins.

The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA came to power in January, 2015 on the back of anti-austerity promises only to see Prime Minister promptly renege and bring in an ideological enemy, the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) to have enough votes to control Parliament.

That blew up when ANEL leader Panos Kammenos stepped down as Defense Minister and took his party out of the government in apparent protest over a deal the anti-nationalist made with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), giving away the name of an ancient Greek province.

That it was an apparent staged political theater to let enough ANEL dissidents back Tsipras in a vote of confidence to keep the government running and for the FYROM deal to be approved over the objections of two-thirds of Greece.

All that is so much inside baseball to ordinary citizens but Efrossini said it might work for Tsipras and SYRIZA who are far behind the major opposition New Democracy in polls.

“They (voters) will give SYRIZA another chance because even though they don’t expect a lot of things from SYRIZA, New Democracy has done nothing for them,” she said.

(Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

University of Athens Prof. Aristides N. Hatzis, a specialist in the Department of History & Philosophy of Science told TNH that the way the SYRIZA-ANEL split unfolded that it was “more like a slapstick comedy or farce.”

With both plummeting in polls – ANEL to 1.3 percent in the latest survey – he said the coalition “was already a lame duck,” with Tsipras hoping the apparent trade-off political transaction would help get the FYROM deal done and Kammenos hoping to show he had stood against it.

“They are trying, with this move, to minimize their losses. Tsipras to ‘cleanse’ himself from ultra-right wingers and Kammenos to present himself as the self-less patriot who makes the sacrifice … I don’t think that anyone will be persuaded,” Hatzis said.

The oddfellows coalition was shaky from the start but Tsipras, needing ANEL’s seven votes to have a scant three-vote majority in Parliament, tolerated Kammenos’ occasional outbursts, including against SYRIZA, because it was followed by the jingoistic minister then voting for government policies and backing the Premier.

It was costly as Kammenos fell so far in the polls it seemed the only hope he and his shrinking party had of returning in elections this year was to find some way to distance themselves from the relationship they had created by joining SYRIZA.

Antonis Klapsis, Adjunct Lecturer of History at the Hellenic Open University, said the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition was already history by the time of the breakup and would gain nothing from the act he saw as an outright sham.

“Almost everybody believes that New Democracy will win the coming election whenever they take place,” he said. The polls are required to be held by October but speculation has built Tsipras may call them in May to coincide with European Parliament elections and prevent any further momentum by the Conservatives as he continues with handouts.

A New Democracy win would bring its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to power but the prospects are complicated over the FYROM deal, also called the Prespes Agreement over the lake which borders both countries and where it was signed.

Klapsis, a former political analyst with the New Democracy think tank Constantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy said if the FYROM deal is defeated that the question of what to do next “will remain as a bomb in the hands of Mitsotakis.”

He said the New Democracy leader, as Prime Minister would have two options: to backtrack on his vow to revise the deal because of international pressure – “in this case he will lose most of his party and his government will almost instantly dissolve.”

The other would, he said, would be for Mitsotakis to stick to his promise. “In this case, New Democracy and his government will remain in one piece, but Greece will have to pay a huge diplomatic price,” with FYROM joining NATO and be recognized as Macedonia, not North Macedonia, as the deal called for Greece to lift its veto on the country joining the alliance.

A passionate follower of Greek politics, Litsa, a 60-year-old schoolteacher who didn’t want her last name used, told TNH she has a different take, as a former Communist backer who switched to supporting SYRIZA.

“It wasn’t a divorce (with ANEL), it was a natural consequence,” she said, with FYROM inevitably causing a split. “Since they were strongly opposed on this issue it wasn’t normal to begin with that they were together,” she added.

Disbelieving the polls and recalling the fervor that surrounded the Leftists win by their rabid followers, she said, “SYRIZA will win again because it’s a center-left party, not a left party and will get voters from outside Parliament elements as well. It will turn into a movement.”