Greek left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras was sworn in Monday as the prime minister of a new hard-line, anti-bailout government determined to face down international lenders and end nearly five years of tough economic measures.
The decisive victory by Tsipras’ Syriza in Sunday’s snap election reignites fears of new financial troubles in the country that set off the regional crisis in 2009. It is also the first time a member of the 19-nation eurozone will be led by parties rejecting German-backed austerity.
Tsipras’ success is likely to empower Europe’s fringe parties, including other anti-austerity movements across the region’s economically depressed south. The trouncing of the conservatives represents a defeat of Europe’s middle-ground political guard, which has dallied on a growth-versus-budget discipline debate for five years while voters suffered.
Sporting his trademark no-tie look, the 40-year old former student communist Tsipras became the first prime minister in Greek history to be sworn in without the traditional oath on a Bible and blessing of basil and water from the Greek Archbishop.
At a brief secular ceremony where he pledged to uphold the constitution, Tsipras told President Karolos Papoulias: “We have an uphill road ahead.” In a symbolic move, his first action as prime minister was to commemorate Greek resistance fighters with red roses at a memorial in Athens to those executed by Nazis.
Defying predictions that he would turn from populist to pragmatist after taking power, Tsipras quickly sealed a coalition deal with the small Independent Greeks party which also opposes Greece’s EU/IMF aid program.
Syriza won 149 seats in the 300-seat parliament with its campaign of “Hope is coming!” leaving it just two seats short of an outright majority and in need of a coalition partner. The Independent Greeks, at odds with Syriza on many social issues like illegal immigration, won 13 seats.
The alliance is an unusual one. The parties, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, share only a mutual hatred of the 240-billion-euro bailout program keeping Greece afloat at the price of budget cuts.
Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami, a new centrist party once seen as a potential Syriza coalition partner, said he could not join a government that included the Independent Greeks. But he said he would wait to see the government’s program before deciding whether to support a vote of confidence in parliament.
The tie-up suggests Tsipras will keep up his confrontational stance against Greece’s creditors, who have dismissed his demands for a debt write-off and insisted the country needs reforms and austerity to get its finances back on track.
For the first time in more than 40 years, neither the New Democracy party nor the center-left PASOK will be in power, beaten by a party that has until recently always been at the fringe.
Together with last week’s decision by the ECB to pump billions of euros into the eurozone’s flagging economy, Syriza’s victory marks a turning point in the long eurozone crisis.
It signals a move away from the budget rigor championed by Germany as the accepted approach to dealing with troubled economies, though it is unclear what concessions Syriza will be able to wring from creditors.Tsipras has drawn the ire of lenders with his pledge to end budget cuts and heavy tax rises that have helped send the jobless rate over 25 percent and pushed millions into poverty.
Both International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, who said the Fund would continue supporting Greece, and the chairman of the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said they wanted to work with the new government.
In a sign of the mammoth challenge ahead, the EU issued a stern warning to Greece that its place in the eurozone would be at risk if it failed to meet its austerity and debt commitments.
In Washington, the White House said it hoped to work closely with the new government and would continue “to support international efforts to foster Greece’s economic recovery.