Alexis Tsipras, Greek bailout PM who lost final gamble

After winning a series of gambles - including an austerity referendum, resignation and re-election in 2015, and a confidence vote as recently as May - Mr Alexis Tsipras' luck finally ran out.
After winning a series of gambles - including an austerity referendum, resignation and re-election in 2015, and a confidence vote as recently as May - Mr Alexis Tsipras' luck finally ran out.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ATHENS (AFP) - Mr Alexis Tsipras's dream of leading Greece into the post-bailout era came crashing down on Sunday (July 7) as his leftist Syriza party lost by a landslide to the conservative New Democracy party.

In a defeat blamed by analysts on a middle-class revolt against heavy taxation, Mr Tsipras leaves the post as the longest-running PM in the country's decade-long crisis.

After winning a series of gambles - including an austerity referendum, resignation and re-election in 2015, and a confidence vote as recently as May - his luck finally ran out.

"We took difficult decisions and today we paid the political cost," a chastened Mr Tsipras said in a concession speech.

"We will work hard to make this defeat a temporary one," he said, adding that his party would "dynamically" resist efforts to roll back labour rights.

Mr Tsipras tried everything to avert defeat. He warned voters that a victory by the conservative opposition New Democracy party would bring back the hated IMF from which he had just "liberated" the country. He called Mr Mitsotakis a pampered "prince" whose labour reform plans reeked of "human blood".

He even posed holding a puppy in the PM's office.

None of it worked.

On the policy side, Mr Tsipras touted his party's track record in reducing unemployment by around eight points and raising the minimum wage for the first time since 2012.

His government also rolled out a batch of last-minute tax cuts in May.

 
 

It was still not enough to turn the tide as Mr Mitsotakis promised a swifter turn-around with lower taxes.

Early results from nearly 80 per cent of polling stations showed New Democracy scoring a crushing victory by nearly 40 percent - its best score in over a decade - to over 31 per cent for Mr Tsipras's leftist Syriza party.

Mr Tsipras was Greece's first avowed atheist PM and its youngest in over a century.

He had stormed to power in 2015 with promises to eliminate austerity.

Instead, Greece's creditors forced him to accept a third bailout following a disastrous six-month negotiation that nearly saw the country pushed out of the euro.

EMPHASIS ON RIGHTS, POVERTY

In the four years that followed, Syriza sharply increased taxes to build a fiscal surplus demanded by the creditors, but also promoted income redistribution programmes to help the poor with rent, electricity benefits and school meals.

The economy inched out of recession and unemployment fell from nearly 26 per cent when Syriza took power to around 18 per cent this year.

Under Mr Tsipras, Greece also took major steps on equal rights reforms.

Transgender persons were for the first time given the right to legally determine their chosen sex on official documents.

Cohabitation and surrogate parental rights were awarded to couples in a same-sex civil union.

At a time of hardening views towards migrants in Europe, Mr Tsipras's administration also tried to integrate asylum-seekers.

But resistance from other EU countries left Greek island camps full to bursting with desperate refugees, often living in appalling conditions.

Mr Tsipras took flak for a deal with his Macedonia counterpart Zoran Zaev to rename Greece's northern neighbour the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a quarter-century diplomatic dispute.

He and Mr Zaev were nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize - but the deal sank Mr Tsipras's coalition government and left Greece's populous north seething over the dispute regarding the northern Greek province of the same name.

One of the darkest moments of Mr Tsipras's time in office was the deadly July 2018 wildfire that killed 102 people in Mati near Athens. A few months earlier, a flood in Mandra, on the outskirts of the capital, left 23 dead.

The government tried to partially blame severe climate conditions and poor planning on both occasions, but could not escape widespread condemnation for perceived failings by state agencies.

A former Communist and student leader, Mr Tsipras rose swiftly through the ranks of the leftist Syriza party - secretary of its youth wing at 25, Athens mayoral candidate at 32, party chief at 33, member of parliament at 35.

His family background is modest compared to that of Mr Mitsotakis, whose father was prime minister in the 1990s, and whose sister was mayor of Athens during the 2004 Olympics.

An engineer by training, Mr Tsipras was born in the suburbs of Athens in 1974, the year a seven-year army dictatorship that mercilessly persecuted leftists collapsed.

He has two sons with electronics engineer Betty Baziana, whom he met in high school. They have never married, despite the country's strong conservative traditions.

A lifelong fan of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Mr Tsipras named his youngest son Orfeas Ernesto after the Argentine revolutionary.