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Greek elections: voters give Europe and single currency a chance

Category : Business

Rightwing New Democracy party hopes to lead coalition while left gains from votes against austerity

European leaders working to avert a meltdown of the single currency gained some respite when Greek voters handed a narrow victory to mainstream conservatives and the chance to forge a pro-euro and pro-bailout coalition.

In the single most closely watched election in years, which amounted to a referendum on whether Greece would become the first country to be forced out of the single currency, the anti-austerity radical Alexis Tsipras was also given a boost, increasing his share of the vote to more than 27%. On a momentous night in European politics, Greece’s conservative New Democracy, under Antonis Samaras, appeared to have pulled the country back from the brink of what many feared would be a national catastrophe and averted a much deeper immediate crisis in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Socialists in France, under President François Hollande, secured a comfortable absolute parliamentary majority, immeasurably strengthening the president’s hand in the looming battles over the future of Europe and its beleaguered currency.

European leaders postponed their departure for a G20 summit in Mexico in order to be able to digest the outcome of the ballot in Greece, which posed the most severe challenge to the EU and the euro.

The fallout from the Greek election and the broader issue of how to avert a renewed European banking crisis and stabilise the currency will dominate the Mexico negotiations, with the US and the UK pressing the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain to ward off the risk of collapse by coming up with persuasive action by the end of the month.

The G20 talks will be promptly followed by a flurry of EU summitry climaxing in a European Council of heads of government in Brussels at the end of next week.

Samaras will now be asked to try to form a government, after his New Democracy narrowly defeated Tsipras’s Syriza coalition of radical leftists by 2.4 percentage points. He began the quest to build a coalition with an appeal to form a government of “national salvation”. He hailed the result as a “victory for Europe”. In a sense, after two years of Europe supplying a lifeline to Greece, the tables turned with the Greek electorate delivering a bit more time for Europe’s leaders to secure the currency’s future. “The Greek people voted for the European course of Greece and that we remain in the euro,” Samaras declared. “This is an important moment for Greece and the rest of Europe.” Athens would honour its commitments made in exchange for rescue loans from the EU and IMF.

The arithmetic pointed to a grand coalition of the two traditionally biggest parties, New Democracy and the centre-left Pasok socialists, which mustered about 160 seats between them in the 300-seat chamber. But such a coalition between arch-enemies will be unstable.

The European powers will put pressure on the two traditionally big parties. Although ravaged in last month’s inconclusive election, the two campaigned in effect to remain in the euro and to stick roughly to the draconian eurozone terms imposed on Greece as the price for two bailouts amounting to €240bn and a halving of its government debt.

Tsipras, who stunned Europe by coming from nowhere in May to take 17% of the vote and second place, improved vastly on his performance with some 27% by campaigning to reject the bailout terms, ameliorate the austerity programmes, and yet keep Greece in the euro. He might be happier to emerge as a formidable and strengthened opposition leader.

Leading EU politicians had warned the Greeks that a Tsipras victory would mean ejection from the single currency, a campaign that backfired to judge by the strength of the Syriza result. All the signs now are that, despite the tough talk in the election campaign, the Europeans will shift to relaxing the terms of Greece’s bailout, while emphasising that the broad conditions have to be met.

“I can well imagine that the schedule will be discussed again,” said the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, , suggesting that the timeline set for Greece’s budget deficit reduction programme will be eased. Belgian officials made similar noises. There was nonetheless palpable relief across the European elite that Tsipras would probably not be able to form a government, which would have triggered a much more perilous phase in the European crisis.

In a statement , the leadership of the 17-country eurozone also hinted at a willingness to renegotiate Greece’s bailout terms. “The Eurogroup reiterates its commitment to assist Greece in its adjustment effort,” the statement said. “The Eurogroup expects the [EU and IMF] institutions to return to Athens as soon as a new government is in place to exchange views with the new government on the way forward.”

The heads of the European Commission and Council also pledged “to stand by Greece as a member of the EU family and of the Euro area.”

Attention now turns to the broader plans being hatched for next week’s summit aimed at charting the way towards a more stable, durable, and centralised eurozone “banking union” and “fiscal union”. The moves will see David Cameron both supporting and opposing the direction of policy in the eurozone, demanding that eurozone leaders embark on an integrationist leap while insisting on guarantees that Britain is spared being roped into any parts of the new regime. “The reality is that there are a set of things the eurozone countries need to do, and it is up to the eurozone countries to decide whether they are prepared to make the sacrifices these entail,” he will say in Mexico on Monday.

The German government’s response that it does not see why it should make those sacrifices at Britain’s bidding in order to come up with a new regime that Britain is urging. The argument, likely to escalate over the coming weeks, is about the shape and powers for a new European “banking union” which would put some 25 of the biggest EU banks posing a “systemic risk” to the financial system under the authority of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

“The alternatives to action that creates a more coherent euro-zone are either perpetual stagnation from a eurozone crisis that is never resolved,” Cameron is to say, “or a break-up caused by a failure to address underlying economic fundamentals that would have financial consequences that would damage the world economy including Britain.”

Greek elections: the replay deepens the divide | Editorial

Category : Business

It is unclear what has changed – there’s no majority, no platform for stable government, still less any prospect of early recovery

Imagine the pass we would have reached if the future of Britain turned on elections for Coventry city council. The eurozone has reached a comparable position, as the eyes of a continent trained on a ballot in one small corner of a vast economy, representing a mere 3% of the total. The choice of a government is of natural importance to the 11 million Greeks. But one weird consequence of the zone’s lethal rigidity is that world statesmen, financial colossuses and fearful millions beyond all got obsessed with Sunday’s knife-edge vote.

Greeks waited on Sunday night to learn if two, three or four points separated the conservative New Democracy from the leftist Syriza, but the important numbers for daily life are no longer measured in percentages. They come in great ugly fractions – the full one-fifth of output that has gone up in smoke, the quarter that has been hacked off many pensions and the half of young adults who are unemployed. As the world found out the hard way in the 1930s and is now discovering afresh, there is quite simply a limit to how much austerity people will swallow. The Greeks reject the strangulation of livelihood that they can see all around them, but are also determined to cling to the euro and avoid lurching back to a Balkan past. To survive, the big parties had to fit themselves around these basic contours.

After all, Sunday confirmed the collapse of social democracy in the form of Pasok and also saw a substantial vote sustained for the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. Despite being led by the divisive Antonis Samaras, ND thus felt obliged to demand a sweetening of the harsh bailout which it has championed. Even then, it ended down several points on its bad loss of 2009. If it is victory, it’s not victory as we know it – hence the immediate spin about a grand coalition. Syriza, meanwhile, which in 2009 was a fringe coalition of malcontents ranging from Greens to Trotskyites, has toned down its Brussels bashing. Its charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras, penned FT op-eds swearing to stick in the euro, as he trod a path from obscurity to the brink of victory in a couple of months.

Europe’s north will soon have to choose between renegotiating so the oxygen of liquidity can flow on less ruinous terms, or else standing back and watching the Greek banks go bust with a bang. Take the second course, and the amputation of the euro’s first limb will follow. After this month’s Spanish bank rescue failed to soothe market nerves, the immediate question would then be “who next?”. A currency of supposedly eternal integrity could be rapidly dismembered. After a campaign whose only effect was to deepen the ND-Syriza faultline by drawing support from elsewhere to both sides of this divide, the two main parliamentary caucuses are bigger. Beyond that, it was unclear what had changed – there’s no majority, no platform for stable government, still less any prospect of early recovery.

Having previously intervened to try and frustrate the arrival of a new French president, who on Sunday cemented his power in the National Assembly, Angela Merkel saw fit to hector the Greeks ahead of the vote. The German chancellor’s understandable aim may have been capping the huge bailout costs, but the close vote does not suggest this was wise. A campaign of fear may just have secured the sort of supplicant Europe is used to doing business with, but it will not for long avoid a renegotiation, still less achieve anything more enduring. The grip of a new government with a shaky mandate will not be aided by fears of financial subjugation taking a political turn.

At home, George Osborne is deep in the danger zone he once boasted he had got Britain out of. At the Mansion House last week, he proclaimed “new firepower” in the face of the “crisis on our doorstep”. But the coming days could do for lingering hopes of an island nation remaining an island of economic tranquillity. Across the continent, the last best hope is the old, dormant doctrine of ever-closer union. It is more likely to be a case of never-closer union if integration acquires the taint of domination, as opposed to partnership.

Martin Rowson on the Greek elections and the eurozone crisis – cartoon

Category : Business

David Cameron has warned that the eurozone risks breakup or continuing stagnation

Read the original: Martin Rowson on the Greek elections and the eurozone crisis – cartoon

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Like passengers on a runaway train, we have hurtled to the edge of a precipice

Category : Business

From Berlin to Washington, all eyes are on Greece in elections whose result will be felt around the world

In the many years I have lived in Athens, I have often heard Greeks joke that theirs is a world inhabited only by them. What happens elsewhere is of little import. If there is a grain of truth in every joke, then there can be no denying that Greece is well and truly at the centre of world events. From Berlin to Washington, Brussels and Beijing, all eyes are on Athens.

What happens on 17 June when Greeks cast their ballots – in an election that has become one of the most significant on the continent of Europe since the second world war – will have an impact that will not be contained by the borders of their debt-choked country. The decision of nine million people will ripple far beyond the craggy tip of the Balkan peninsula that they inhabit. An entire union of nations could be affected; world markets could fall. “Greece will decide the future of Europe,” says CNN.

In the birthplace of democracy, almost no one can believe the events that have hurled tiny Greece onto the front page of practically every newspaper on the planet. Like passengers on a runaway train, we have careered at ever greater speed on a tumultuous journey that has now led us to a precipice. We don’t know what lies below because no one has ever gone there. Some say it resembles the valley of death. Everyone knows the choice – between excruciating austerity measures and euro exit – is little more than a choice between bad and worse.

Vote in favour of those parties peddling vehement anti-European, anti-austerity rhetoric and be under no illusion, the Greeks are told, that EU-IMF rescue loans will dry up and chaos result. Vote for those who see the punishing policies as the only way of keeping bankruptcy at bay, and you might have a chance of survival. Even the German edition of the Financial Times felt fit to convey the message in a blistering editorial that it carried in Greek on its front page on Friday.

In their descent to a place where no nation would want to go, Greeks have found that nothing is the same. Everything has changed as certainties have crumbled. Many of my friends feel bewildered and fearful: bewildered that it should come to this, fearful of the dislocation from assurances of things past.

In the topsy-turvy world that they now inhabit, almost all have decided that they will throw their political convictions to the winds. For the first time ever, they will vote conservative, casting their ballot in favour of New Democracy, the “pro-European” party led by Antonis Samaras in the hope – no matter how slight – that Greece can be saved. The world is watching. They are at the centre of it. But this time there is no disputing that they wish they weren’t.

Greece: chronic insecurity and despair – welcome to life in a broken state | Nikos Konstandaras

Category : Business

Greece’s challenges are in part unique but they also distil problems inherent in the rest of the continent

The world may be watching Sunday’s elections in Greece with fascination and awe, as one would approach the scene of an accident before the rescue workers arrive, understanding that the vote could push Greece out of the euro and trigger a series of unforeseen consequences for the eurozone and the global economy.

For we Greeks, though, this is a purely domestic affair. The pressures of meeting our creditors’ demands for austerity and reform in exchange for life-supporting loans are straining society to breaking point. The vote will stand as a memorial to the breakdown of our political system, so we have too much on our plates to be overly concerned with how others see us.

We are voting because our political parties could not find the courage to work together in the face of a dire national crisis after the inconclusive 6 May election. Then, they could not even agree on the terms of a televised debate. Now, before Sunday’s vote, these masters of diplomacy and compromise who cannot talk to each other all promise to renegotiate successfully the terms of our bailout deal with increasingly frustrated partners in the EU and the IMF.

Meanwhile, the social security system is collapsing, hospitals are suffering dire shortages, one in four workers is unemployed and the rest fear that their turn is coming. A lawyer friend thinks of going into farming – the land will at least provide food. Seven out of 10 people aged between 18 and 24 say they want to emigrate; people are afraid they’ll lose their savings if we leave the euro; migrants are being attacked by right-wing thugs; and the economy – in its fifth year of recession – is dying from lack of liquidity, meaning that many more businesses will close. (On a more personal level, I hold my breath each time I visit the cash machine.) On top of this, relations with our partners and creditors are frozen.

One would think this is the time for political consensus and a national programme for the country’s recovery. Instead, the absence of a viable new political force means that people have to look either to old parties with all their baggage or be drawn to formerly marginal extremists. It is clear that these parties can handle neither the rigours of the eurozone nor the chaos that would follow if Greece left it.

People are voting for parties they never would have considered before, expressing the fear, anger and general sense of uncertainty that has taken root in every heart. Many who were left of centre will vote for the conservative New Democracy party because it says it will not prompt a crisis with our creditors and so the reforms and loans will continue. Others who never considered themselves leftists are flocking to the other pole, the radical left coalition Syriza, which declares that the loan and reform package (known here as the “memorandum”) is already null and void.

More unsettling is the new prominence of a group of violent rightwing extremists, who are drawing support from many who might never have thought of voting for them but, feeling powerless, want proxy hard men strutting about the country.

With our vote, we will show that our parties’ time is up, because none of them seems fit to deal with the challenges that they will face in government. And this, as much as our threat to the euro, is something that should concern the rest of Europe. Many of Greece’s challenges are unique, but our country distils problems inherent in Europe’s unification – and one of them is the inability of political forces to deal with rising popular anger at home while at the same time co-ordinating action at the European level.

The Greeks are split and disorientated, with the two centrist parties (New Democracy and centre-left Pasok) that have dominated politics since 1974 losing most of their support and credibility. There is no centre now, no powerful party synonymous with the state, no one to offer the reassurance of the old political patrons.

Just as the economic crisis was first seen as a purely Greek problem, only to lead to much more fundamental questioning of the EU’s determination to protect its common currency, so too the political crisis could signal what is in store in other countries. When the traditional formula of austerity and reforms brings no swift results other than to push great numbers of people into unemployment, poverty and despair, while undermining the confidence of citizens and businesses, people will turn their backs on reality and seek comfort either in the past, in shared grievances or in populists’ false promises.

While Germany worries about the rampant inflation that helped bring the Nazis to power, in Greece we see that the dogmatic fear of inflation, expressed through unrelenting austerity, can cause the same social distress that brought forth Germany’s monsters.

So where does Greece stand in Europe? Is its place in the euro and in the EU threatened? Many of those voting today do not see the election in the same light as all the officials and economists across the world: a referendum on our euro membership, whose result, if negative, could prompt a wild pack mentality across world markets, further recession and perhaps even cost Barack Obama his re-election.

Those voting for New Democracy do so in a conscious effort to keep Greece in the common currency. But, since consecutive polls have found that some 70% of citizens want Greece to remain in the euro, it seems that those voting for Syriza and other “anti-memorandum” parties really do believe their message that reneging on the bailout agreement will not lead to an end to the euros being pumped in from abroad.

Both New Democracy and Syriza have played the game of polarisation, as if staging the final battle of the civil war that ended in 1949 and resulted in decades of persecution of leftists, which has given them the moral high ground in Greece’s politics since. This, though, is a distraction from the need to agree on reforming the tax system, the judiciary, the public administration and so on. The likelihood is that whoever wins today will be forced to create a coalition, with the result that a weak government will face a strong opposition.

As we saw in the pre-election period that preceded the 6 May vote and today’s ballot, Greece cannot afford to remain without a government. Just as in our handling of the economy – when it had to collapse before we decided to do something about it – Sunday’s results will lead to further stalemate and perhaps prove to us that our political system is in a similar need of reform. While we consider how best to do this, it would be useful for our EU partners to see how best they could avoid the same fate.

Nikos Konstandaras is a columnist at Greek daily Kathimerini.

World Bank warns that euro collapse could spark global crisis

Category : Business

Europe ‘facing Lehmans moment’ says outgoing head Robert Zoellick as Greeks are warned over key election

The outgoing head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, will warn the G20 summit that Europe runs the risk of sparking a Lehman-style global crisis that will have dire consequences for developing nations.

As Greek voters go to the polls in elections that could determine the future of the eurozone, Zoellick told the Observer he was advising emerging nations to ready themselves for the consequences of events in the single-currency area.

The election of an anti-austerity government would spark the most serious crisis for the euro so far, following the apparent failure of a Spanish bank bailout last week. German chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday ruled out renegotiating Greece’s bailout, saying the country must stick to its deals with international lenders. Unofficial polls suggest the conservative New Democracy party is ahead of the anti-austerity Syriza by four percentage points — though as much as 15% of the electorate remains undecided.

As all eyes focus on Athens, Zoellick said: “Europe may be able to muddle through but the risk is rising.” He added: “There could be a Lehmans moment if things are not properly handled.” The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 proved to be the trigger for the deepest slump in the global economy since the 1930s, and Zoellick said developing countries needed to “prepare for the uncertainty coming out of the eurozone and the wider financial markets”. He added: “It will be better if they can avoid piling up short-term debts that can come due in volatile periods and look to the fundamentals of future growth – infrastructure and human capital.”

Zoellick, whose five years at the bank has coincided with the financial and economic crisis, retires at the end of the month. Fearing that Europe’s sovereign debt problems could have spillover effects, he said the bank had been increasing its lending to support Bulgaria’s banking system and acting to prevent a credit crunch in south-east Europe. Steps were also being taken to protect countries in north Africa that were vulnerable to Europe’s debt crisis and trade finance facilities were being strengthened for francophone west Africa.

“Uncertainty in markets is now starting to increase costs for developing countries,” he said. “The ripple effects are making everybody’s life harder.” Zoellick said his organisation was concentrating on helping developing countries to prepare projects that could go ahead with the right investment and to protect the most vulnerable if there was a second leg to the global downturn.

“Given the volatility in the world economy, there is a big emphasis on helping developing countries to develop social safety nets that don’t bust the budget,” he said. Countries such as Mexico and Brazil, he added, had shown they could do this using low-cost, effective targeting, information technology and the right incentives.

While the World Bank’s sister organisation, the IMF, has been more directly involved in the rescue operations for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, Zoellick said that the bank had been monitoring events in Europe carefully. Higher interest rates for countries such as Spain and Italy, which have announced big structural reform programmes, were the result both of market uncertainty and the failure of other European countries to provide “the right backing” for the governments in Madrid and Rome.

As the former US trade representative, Zoellick said he was concerned that the prolonged crisis was starting to lead to pressures for protectionism and economic nationalism. “This is not just an economic crisis but a political threat as well,” he said. “We must make sure we keep markets open and beware against creeping protectionism. We are starting to see some increase in the use of trade restrictions.”

Several European leaders urged Greeks to stick with the euro, including Spain’s prime minister Mariano Rajoy and Jean-Claude Juncker, who is Luxembourg’s prime minister and head of the group of eurozone finance ministers.

“If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable,” Juncker told the Austrian newspaper Kurier. “I can only warn everyone against leaving the currency union. The internal cohesion of the euro zone would be in danger.”

Greek elections: Alexis Tsipras – kingmaker or deal breaker?

Category : Business

The young, leftist leader of Syriza is rallying support ahead of the election rerun, but there are fears about his ambitious plans

In his fresh linen suit and crisp white shirt, Alexis Tsipras cuts a dashing figure. And on the podium on Sunday, exactly one week before Greeks cast their ballots in the most crucial election since their country emerged from the ashes of civil war, the young leftist leader was on vintage form, fists punching the air as the crowd cheered on the man many have come to see as Greece’s salvation in its greatest hour of need.

On Sunday, it was Chios. On Monday, Heraklion, the capital of Crete. On Tuesday, Athens. But as he crisscrosses Greece, the message is the same. “We speak the language of hope,” says Tsipras, “where others speak the language of fear.”

In the countdown to a vote that could be as pivotal for Europe as for debt-stricken Athens – with many seeing it as a referendum on Greece’s place in the eurozone – the politician is on a roll.

The language of hope is what Tsipras is good at. More than two years into an economic crisis that is increasingly being compared to a war, Tsipras’ fiery, feelgood, anti-austerity rhetoric has gone down a treat. So, too, have his fierce denunciations of the corrupt political elite, crooked bankers and barbaric measures that have led to Greece’s “undignified” descent into penury and misery.

Like every war, says the telegenic politician, the first casualty is truth. The Greeks – the eurozone’s poorest nation despite living standards having leapt since joining the single currency – have been duped into thinking that there is only one way out of their economic mess, “through the cruel austerity Madame Merkel and the IMF have inflicted upon us”.

The truth, he argues, lies elsewhere: in the ability to think outside the box, in solutions that are “just and dignified”. The memorandum of understanding outlining the onerous terms Greece must meet to acquire EU-IMF loans to keep its insolvent economy afloat has to be “radically renegotiated”, if not torn up.

It is heady stuff. Six weeks ago, Tsipras was barely known beyond the borders of his homeland. Today, his Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), is a frontrunner in the battle to rule the country. Since emerging as the surprise runner-up of May’s indecisive elections, Syriza – an eclectic alliance of ex-communists, former Stalinists, greens and socialists – has gone from strength to strength.

Surveys show it level with the centre-right New Democracy, although no party is expected to win an outright majority. In Athens, where nearly half of Greece’s 11 million people live, and which has been worst hit by the austerity, Syriza has stolen the show.

As Tsipras storms from town to village, addressing peoples’ assemblies and pre-election rallies, his is a presence that nobody can ignore: from Washington to the capitals of Europe and Asia, Syriza’s meteoric rise from fringe party to possible kingmaker in the next Greek parliament is now being watched closely.

It’s easy to understand why. Creditors have made it clear that if Athens rescinds the structural reforms seen as vital to kickstarting its moribund economy, further injections of cash will stop. Without the money, Greece will have to default, declare bankruptcy and leave the eurozone, sending the 17-nation bloc into a tailspin from which the global economy might take decades to recover. The stakes have never been higher.

“If Syriza comes first, Europe should be very afraid: my expectation is that … we would have chaos,” says Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics. “There would be huge instability and uncertainty on international financial markets and frenzy [among EU leaders] with a government that is a loose coalition and lacking clarity of purpose being forced to make decisions.”

Tsipras, who turns 38 next month, has vehemently rejected accusations that his party’s desire is to exit the eurozone – denouncing the charge as scaremongering to force Greeks into voting for parties such as New Democracy that accept the bailout accord in principle – even though some in Syriza have openly embraced the drachma’s return.

With the party recognising the need to reach out to undecided moderates, cadres say the leader will seek to placate the fears in a television appearance on Tuesday. Tempering his speech at the weekend, he said: “Renegotiating the terms of the loan agreement is the most beneficial strategy for both sides.”

But while Tsipras has the freshness of youth on his side – and in the countdown to the poll has seemed remarkably vital in contrast to his fatigued, ashen-faced opponents – he has been criticised for scoring easy points as a demagogue and a populist.

In recent weeks he has spoken of the need to nationalise banks, expand the public sector and stop all forms of privatisation, including the handover of public beaches to private firms. His economic policy would extend unemployment benefits, raise the minimum wage and cut taxes in what would amount to a complete reversal of the policies Greece has been forced to adopt in exchange for financial assistance.

“Syriza is a manifestation of a deep-rooted Greek culture, the underdog culture of feeling threatened from outside,” Featherstone says. “It is especially deep-rooted among the economically vulnerable who fear international competition and are ripe for populist leadership.”

Increasingly, Tsipras has been likened to Andreas Papandreou, the Pasok party leader who was swept to power in 1981 promising to take Greece out of the then-EEC and Nato. The socialist strongman has been much blamed for instigating the state profligacy that has since brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy.

Tellingly, Pasok trade unionist leaders have turned their backs on the party – which sees the loan agreement as the only way out of the crisis – to support Syriza. The switch of allegiance has raised howls of protest that the leftist group has become the receptacle for Greek civil servants who want to hold on to past privileges and benefits.

“The difference is Papandreou appeared in the late 70s and he had time to reverse his policies,” said Prof Dimitris Keridis, who teaches political science at Panteion University. “But today there is neither the time nor the money to moderate the expectations he has raised, since Greece is totally dependent on its creditors. If he [Tsipras] wins, he’ll be faced with a severe choice: either to agree to their basic terms [and] risk the wrath of his rank and file, or take Greece into the drachma.”

Tsipras laughs at the idea that he is a new Papandreou, preferring to say simply that the politician, who died in 1996, was “a historic figure, a great man”. But the Syriza leader, who was born four days after the end of military rule on 28 July 1974, does not disagree that he has been influenced by the atmosphere that Papandreou, a radical leftist when he formed Pasok out of an anti-junta resistance movement, helped create. Some in Syriza also speak of “armed struggle”.

The son of a engineer, who voted Pasok when it first came to power, Tsipras comes from a comfortable but highly politicised background. The youngest of three children, he followed his older siblings in signing up to the communist youth party (KNE), soon becoming the face of high school sits-ins by students protesting against government reforms.

In a system that had bred so many hopes and expectations with the return of democracy, Tsipras found much to be angry about, admitting in an interview with the Guardian last month that with its endemic corruption and cronyism Greece was “far removed” from the country either he or his parents had dreamed of. “The system was completely rotten,” he said, saying that after the election he hoped to create “a protective shield” around poor Greeks, the worst hit by the crisis.

But whether the unflappable Tsipras wins the ballot or not, analysts believe that in many ways he is already the victor.

With Syriza poised to garner about 20% of the vote, compared with a mere 4.6% in the 2009 elections, its popularity has already clearly soared. On the streets, the party would likely be even stronger than in power as it stepped up opposition to policies that with each passing day are getting ever closer to tearing Greece apart.