ATHENS • He took office as an anti- austerity renegade, vowing to win a better debt deal for Greece. But he reversed course and agreed to a new bailout programme, triggering a rebellion in his own far-left party.
Now Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has gone on the offensive to strengthen his hold on power, announcing he will step down with an eye to snap elections as early as next month that could help him return to power with a more manageable coalition.
Mr Tsipras quit on Thursday after seven months in power. And yesterday, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos formally gave the conservative opposition a chance to form a new government.
Yet the country appears almost certain to be heading to an election - the third in as many years. Conservative leader Vangelis Meimarakis' New Democracy party has just 76 members in the 300-seat Parliament, and is unlikely to find enough partners among an opposition that ranges from the KKE communists to the ultra-right Golden Dawn party.
Mr Tsipras had long been expected to seek an election later this year. But he was forced to move quickly after nearly a third of lawmakers in his Syriza party refused to back the €86 billion (S$135 billion) bailout programme in Parliament last week, robbing him of his majority. The deal managed to pass through Parliament only with the help of opposition parties.
How the Greek elections work
PARTIES IN PARLIAMENT AND SEATS
• Syriza, left-wing: Led by Alexis Tsipras (124)
• New Democracy, centre-right: Interim leader Vangelis Meimarakis (76)
• Popular Unity, left-wing: Led by Panagiotis Lafazanis (25)
• Golden Dawn, far-right: Led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos (17)
• To Potami, centrist: Led by Stavros Theodorakis (17)
• KKE, communist: Led by Dimitris Koutsoumbas (15)
• Independent Greeks, right: Led by Panos Kammenos (13)
• Pasok, centre-left: Led by Fofi Gennimata (13)
• MPs are elected from lists of party candidates and for geographical constituencies. Voters in Athens, where half the country's 11 million population live, elect 58 deputies.
• Parties need to secure at least 3 per cent of the vote to enter the 300-member Parliament for a four-year term.
SECURING A MAJORITY
•The biggest party automatically wins a 50-seat premium to make it easier to form a stable government. But the share of the vote needed to secure a majority with 151 seats in the Parliament depends on how the overall result is divided.
• If all parties running get into Parliament, the threshold for outright victory is just over 40 per cent. But this drops depending on how many votes go to parties that fail to clear the 3 per cent entry threshold. If, for example, 5 per cent of the vote goes to parties that fail to get into Parliament, the margin for victory could be around 38 per cent.
IF THERE IS NO OUTRIGHT WINNER
• If this happens, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos gives the leader of the biggest party a mandate to form a coalition or gain agreement for a minority government. Should this fail, the exploratory mandate is handed to the second party, and so on.
• If the parties cannot agree, the President holds a final meeting with party leaders. If they still cannot agree, he appoints a caretaker government to call new elections.
The far-left rebels in Syriza that had defied him announced yesterday that they have broken away to form a new party with 25 lawmakers. The new party will be called Popular Unity and headed by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis. With 25 lawmakers, the party would be the third-largest bloc in Parliament.
Officials said Mr Tsipras would seek to schedule the vote for Sept 20. On announcing his resignation on Thursday, he acknowledged his record had been patchy.
"I want to be honest with you. We did not achieve the agreement we expected before the January elections," he said on national television. "I feel the deep ethical and political responsibility to put to your judgment all I have done, successes and failures."
Under his leadership, Greece had to close the banks for three weeks as panicky savers pulled billions from their accounts, and strict curbs on withdrawals from the banking system remain, badly hurting business.
The economy, which had finally been growing slightly after a long depression, began shrinking again under Mr Tsipras, although it bounced back in April-June, according to data that puzzled many economists.
Nevertheless, Mr Tsipras remains popular although no opinion polls have been taken for almost a month, and he appears to have no serious rivals to prevent his return to power.
Analysts at Axia Ventures Group said that with the support of smaller pro-European Union parties, Mr Tsipras "could create a strong coalition that will be able to pass and implement reforms".
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES