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Tsipras Wins Again as Greek Politics Tilts European
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates after his party's victory in the Greek general elections at his campaign headquarters in Athens, September 20, 2015. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Tsipras Wins Again as Greek Politics Tilts European

Walter Russell Mead

Amid record low turnout (56.6 percent), Alexis Tsipras once again won at the polls in Greece, with his Syriza coalition gathering 35.46 percent of the vote, compared to the 28.1 percent won by the center-right New Democracy. Tsipras immediately looked to form a government with the far-right Independent Greeks, his coalition partner since January.

The biggest loser in the election (apart from the group of pollsters who had been calling a tight race between Syriza and New Democracy for weeks now) was the far-left splinter wing of Syriza, which formed the new Popular Unity party. Popular Unity was calling for a return to the drachma, but it failed to clear the 3 percent threshold necessary to enter parliament. “My conditions are that we remain in Europe and nothing else, because under no circumstances can we exit”, one voter said. Another: “I voted, but with a heavy heart. The bailout is here and now we are only looking for a manager to implement it.”

The miserable performance by the left breakaway faction may be the biggest news of the election, and, as the quote above suggests, it means that the Greeks in fact prefer Tsipras’ policy of symbolic resistance to well…actual resistance. The left wanted Greece to dump the euro and strike out on its own, but Tsipras’ approach is to huff and puff and say how much he hates terms imposed by the troika— and then go along with them. He might sabotage and soften the bailout deal to the extent that he can, but he did not actually refuse it in the end. That seems to represent the attitude of many Greeks at this point. It’s not a very smart or constructive approach, and Greece would be in much better shape if Syriza hadn’t wasted most of 2015 fighting the EU even as conditions got worse and the terms got harsher. But that’s ultimately something that the Greeks have to decide for themselves.

Syriza, then, is essentially replacing PASOK as the party of the Greek democratic left: It offers lots of symbolic socialism, anti-capitalist rhetoric, and grandstanding, but, in the end, it is part of the European system rather than part of the opposition to the system. That means that, for the moment, Greek politics is looking fairly normal from the EU point of view: The two biggest parties are center-left and center-right. There are, of course, radical factions, with the biggest threat to the system coming from Golden Dawn, the anti-immigrant party of radical nationalism. And Greek politics remains edgier than the politics of most European nations, a reflection of the traditions and divisions of Greek political history as well as the dire circumstances facing the country. But in the wake of Syriza’s capitulation to Brussels and the results of the snap election, Greek politics is looking more, not less, European.

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