Greeks should not squander lifeline

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras bought his country some respite through a four-month extension of the bailout programme that was approved by its euro zone partners. But, as he has acknowledged, the extension deal is just one of the many battles his leftist government - elected to office only last month - must fight in trying to keep the country within the monetary union and away from the abyss of bankruptcy. It will take a lot of nerve and political skill on the part of Mr Tsipras to strike a balance between what Greeks want - essentially a way out of the austerity measures of the bailout programme - and what creditors demand, given the high stakes involved.

Already, he faces flak from within his own party, including accusations that he has failed to fulfil Syriza's campaign promise to end the deeply unpopular belt-tightening measures that Greece has had to stomach to secure bailouts from its euro zone partners. The two bailouts totalled €240 billion (S$369 billion), of which the last tranche of €7.2 billion has yet to be given out. Meanwhile, his domestic rivals have charged that the deal has taken the country "kilometres backwards". The Greeks must get real. They have set themselves back over decades all on their own. They should not expect a free ride now.

The reforms tabled by Mr Tsipras are a reasonable compromise under the circumstances. These include creating a fairer tax system, combating tax evasion, tackling corruption, targeting fuel and tobacco smugglers, trimming the civil service and implementing labour reforms. There is also a component to deal with Greece's "humanitarian crisis" that includes housing guarantees and free medical care for those unemployed who are also uninsured.

Of course, the question now is whether Mr Tsipras will be able to carry out these reforms in the face of resistance from vested interests and the far-left of his party. When push comes to shove, both Greece and its euro zone partners will have to make some hard choices. If Greece squanders the lifeline offered, it risks a bank run and a collapse of the economy. If its allies dig in their heels, it risks the unwelcome presence on the scene of Russia or China.

A third bailout cannot be ruled out and, as much as other Europeans abhor it, even a reduction of the huge debt. If the gods are kind to the Greeks, immediate help might come in the form of some leeway to sell more short-term treasury bills to its banks, as has been suggested. The government also needs some manna from heaven to advance some of its anti-poverty policies and give a fillip to its economy. But, as Mr Tsipras should know, the gods help those who help themselves.