Gentlemen, Start Your Rhetoric: Tsipras Challenges Mitsotakis to Debate

FILE - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis during plenary discussions for the revision of the constitution, Nov. 14, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS – Taking snipes from the major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras challenged his opponent to a debate ahead of general elections, which the government insists will be in October.

With New Democracy holding big leads in every poll – the latest gives the Conservatives a 9.5 percent lead, down from a high of 14.1 percent – Tsipras is seen as eager to get at and under the skin of his rival and cut into the margin.

With Greek municipal and European Parliament elections coming May 26, Tsipras has repeatedly said he won’t call early elections but ride out his term that has seen more than four years of reneging on anti-austerity promises, bringing his downfall in surveys.

His strategy has been to claim credit for a recovery from a nine-year economic crisis – without mentioning, if so, it’s because he broke his vows not to impose more taxes and other measures – and a frenzy of handouts to the people must hurt by his backtracking

Speaking at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in southern Athens during a presentation of his SYRIZA party’s candidates for the upcoming elections for European Parliament, Tsipras mocked Mitsotakis as “always coming second and in a sweat” in television appearances.

“I can recommend a way for him to also get ratings that would be suitable to a leader of the main opposition party: show up for a face-to-face confrontation with me, without the Autocue, without notes,” Tsipras said, according to Kathimerini.

Despite surveys showing his candidates for European Union lawmakers are nine points down, he said they will win, similar to his disbelief in polls for the general elections as he said he will win re-election despite breaking essentially all of his 2015 campaign vows.

“We the forces of progress and democracy have not had our final say. We will not allow the far right and neoliberalism to do sweep through Europe,” Tsipras told the audience, adding that SYRIZA’s ticket for the European elections consists of people who are “jewels in their country, in their work and in their social environment.”

That sounded like the rhetoric he used after toppling a New Democracy-led coalition in January, 2015 and promising he would bring a Leftist revolution throughout Europe, “crush the oligarchs,” and bring Greece’s creditors to their knees before they made him do that.

A poll by the firm Pulse gave New Democracy a 31-22 percent edge over SYRIZA candidates for the European Parliament where seats are apportioned in a body that is relatively powerless to affect genuine policy throughout the bloc.

The results were presented by Athens-based SKAI broadcaster, which Tsipras has declared an enemy of his party because it won’t support their agenda.

Only three other parties got above the 3 percent threshold needed to get into the Greek and European Parliaments, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, the center-left Movement for Change and the KKE Communists.

Asked which party they believe will win the next general election, regardless of their preference, 60 percent picked New Democracy to only 22 percent for SYRIZA, showing the depth of Tsipras’ dilemma, which he said he doesn’t believe.