Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced today that he is stepping down and calling elections for Sept. 20 in an attempt to reconsolidate power as he faces a rebellion within his left-wing Syriza party. Tsipras was elected seven months ago, pledging to resist European-imposed austerity measures, but has surprised many by agreeing to a new $94 billion bailout deal in exchange for harsh economic reforms including tax increases and changes to the country’s health care and pension programs.
Tsipras needed the support of the centrist parties he ousted earlier this year in order to win parliamentary approval for the bailout. And so the deal caused a rift within his own party, with some members accusing him of capitulating to European demands and selling out the values of the Greek left.
Syriza is now likely to formally split, with the hard-left faction led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who was fired by Tsipras from the Cabinet in a reshuffle last month. Tsipras is hoping that voters will give him the support he needs to continue implementing the bailout without opposition support.
The question is less whether Tsipras will win the vote than by how much. Polls put support for Syriza at about 33 percent, making it the country’s most popular party by a long shot, but not popular enough to rule without a coalition partner. The party is hoping for an absolute majority that could return some stability to the Greek political system for the first time in a while, but that doesn’t look likely.
Greece received the first $14.5 billion tranche of the bailout money on Thursday, allowing it to avoid a default to the European Central Bank. However, many economists as well as the International Monetary Fund have questioned whether Greece will be able to maintain the budget surpluses required under the deal. Crucially, the election in September will be held before the tax increases and pension cuts mandated as part of the deal go into effect. Tsipras may still have the support of most voters, but he also wants to make sure he gets their votes before they fully know what they’re in for.