By Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned on Thursday, hoping to strengthen his hold on power in snap elections after seven months in office in which he fought Greece’s creditors for a better bailout deal but had to cave in.
Tsipras submitted his resignation to President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and asked for the earliest possible election date.
Government officials said the aim was to hold the election on September 20, with Tsipras seeking to quell a rebellion in his leftist Syriza party and seal public support for the bailout programme, Greece’s third since 2010, that he negotiated.
“I will go the president of the republic shortly to submit my resignation, as well as the resignation of my government,” Tsipras said in a televised address shortly before he met Pavlopoulos.
Faced with a near collapse of the Greek financial system which threatened the country’s future in the euro, Tsipras was forced to accept the creditors’ demands for yet more austerity and economic reform – the very policies he had promised to scrap when he was elected in January.
“I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections,” he told the Greek people.
“I feel the deep ethical and political responsibility to put to your judgment all I have done, successes and failures.”
His decision to return to the ballot box deepens political uncertainty on the very day Greece began receiving funds under its 86 billion-euro bailout programme – five years after a previous government took the first bailout from the euro zone and IMF.
But a snap election should allow Tsipras to capitalise on his popularity with Greek voters before the toughest parts of the latest programme begin to bite, and may allow him to return to power in a stronger position without anti-bailout rebels in Syriza to slow him down.
Tsipras had long been expected to seek early elections in the autumn. But he was forced to move quickly after nearly a third of Syriza lawmakers refused to back the programme in parliament last week, robbing him of his majority.
Greece’s complex constitution has special stipulations for holding elections less than 12 months after the previous vote, meaning the president must first consult other major parties to see if they can form a government – a highly unlikely option.
Hugely popular among his supporters for trying to stand up to foreign creditors and with the opposition in disarray, Tsipras is widely expected to return to power.
A Metron Analysis poll on July 24 put support for Syriza at 33.6 per cent, making it by far the most popular party, but not enough to govern without a coalition partner. No polls have been published since then due to the holiday season.