Reporting from Greece, Dimitri Lascaris explains the constitutionality of the move and weighs in on the calculation to hold another general election on September 20th
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Just after seven months in office faced with a no-confidence vote in parliament, Alexis Tsipras, prime minister of Greece has tendered his resignation. Just before submitting the resignation, he made a brief statement. Let’s have a look. ALEXIS TSIPRAS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER: You must decide if we have taken the right decision for the final recovery of the economy, and to overcome this austerity of the strict measures that were imposed on us. You with your vote will decide who will lead Greece down this difficult road ahead of us, who will negotiate the best way of reducing the debt, who and how will be able to march forward with steady steps and make the changes that the country needs. You with your vote will judge us. PERIES: A new general election will be held on September 20. An election at this time is an attempt to demonstrate that Alexis Tsipras has the popular support to move forward with the latest debt bailout package from the Troika, in spite of the dissent he’s receiving from the left wing of Syriza called the Left Platform. Now joining me to discuss all of this from Greece is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer with the Canadian law firm Siskinds, and he’s a board member of the Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining us, Dimitri. DIMITRI LASCARIS, CLASS ACTIONS LAWYER IN CANADA: Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: Dimitri, so give me your thoughts on the resignation. LASCARIS: Well as you’ll recall, he terminated a marathon negotiation in Brussels on July 13 during which he essentially abandoned his anti-austerity platform and agreed to implement austerity measures that were harsher than anything Greece had endured thus far. Subsequent to that time there were two votes in the Greek parliament which happened on a highly expedited basis. Each one included significant parts of the bailout program and was being implemented through massive legislation that was debated, if you can call it a debate, in a very short period of time. In the first parliamentary vote, which happened a few days after the July 13 agreement in principle, and you and I were in Greece at the time, precipitated a very significant revolt amongst the Syriza Left Platform. And then the subsequent parliamentary vote which implemented a further portion of this bailout agreement, precipitated even larger rebellion by the Left Platform. At that point it became clear to Prime Minister Tsipras that his government was not sustainable. And there was a lot of speculation he would deal with that by calling a vote of confidence after the initial dispersement of bailout funds, which happened in the last 24 to 48 hours, and virtually all of it was used essentially to pay off [tet] that is owed to the very same creditors, or essentially the same creditors, who are lending money to Greece in this third bailout. And the thought was that he would call a vote of confidence to be held after the disbursement of that money. But in fact while he was contemplating what course of action to take, the leaders of the parties that support the bailout, PASOK and New Democracy, made it quite clear that they would not support Prime Minister Tsipras in a vote of confidence. There was little reason to believe that he would get the support of the Left Platform, although he might have been able to persuade a few of its members to support him in a vote of confidence. And so his position, the likelihood of him prevailing in a vote of confidence became quite attenuated. And at that stage, actually quite recently, within the last 24 to 48 hours I think he decided to dispense with the vote of confidence and to call an election. And there are various aspects of the Greek constitution that are triggered by this decision. Essentially the Greek constitution, as I understand it, provides that if an election is called within one year of the formation of the government then it must be held within 30 days of the calling of the election, first of all. And secondly, the opposition parties must first be given an opportunity before the election is actually held to form a government. That means that New Democracy, the neoliberal party that was last in power and that was displaced from power by Syriza, would be given the opportunity to form a government with other parties. And the leader has said that he’s going to do that. He’s going to try to do it. And if he fails, then it would go to the third-largest party, which is the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. They would be, then be afforded an opportunity to form a government. I think there’s very little prospect of either of them being able to form a coalition government that would command a majority. I think that’s virtually impossible. But the New Democracy leader has indicated that he’s going to try, nonetheless, I don’t think because he harbors any illusions about him succeeding in that regard, but because he wants to buy time. I think he wants to delay the election, because speed favors the government, the incumbent, in these particular circumstances for reasons I’ll get back to. PERIES: And when you say attempt to form a government it’s basically to seek a majority, which means they have to fill a few more seats to form the government? LASCARIS: They have to form a coalition that commands a majority in parliament. And they can’t do that–the arithmetic just doesn’t make that realistically possible for any of the opposition parties. I mean, first of all there’s no prospect of the Left Platform entering into a coalition government with either New Democracy or Golden Dawn. And so therefore–and certainly Syriza won’t do that, nor will its coalition partner ANEL, so they just can’t command a majority. They can’t put together a coalition that would command a majority. So this is going to fail. But nonetheless it’s a formality that must be complied with under the constitution. In the interim, a new government must be put in place, a caretaker government, until the election is held. And under the Greek constitution the prime minister of that government must be the president of the Greek supreme court, a 65-year-old jurist by the name of Vassiliki Thanou. And she is a vocal opponent of the bailout. So it’s unlikely that any significant progress would be made in the implementation of this bailout until there is an election. So that’s kind of the constitutional lay of the land. And I think the bigger picture here in terms of what is going on is that Tsipras, the prime minister has calculated that time is his enemy, and that scheduling that election and holding it as quickly as possible works to his advantage. And I think there are several reasons why he’s come to that conclusion. PERIES: And why is it to his advantage? LASCARIS: Right. So the first, and the most widely cited reason in the press today, I think there’s got to be some truth to this, is that the full effects of this harsh–and harshest round of austerity, in fact–have far from been felt by the population. And as time goes by and the program is implemented and the severity of the austerity becomes apparent, and the damaging effects of this austerity on the economy begin to be felt fully, the electorate is likely to turn against him, to the extent it hasn’t already done that. And I think he understands that, and he doesn’t want the decision to be made after it’s become, by the electorate after it’s become increasingly clear just how painful this austerity is going to be. The second, I think, advantage to him, one that the press hasn’t talked a great deal about today, is that the bailout program has a gaping hole in it. And the gaping hole is debt relief. The bailout program, if it can succeed at all, can only succeed if Greece’s unsustainable mountain of debt is substantially reduced. And there are a variety of ways in which that can be done, but whatever method is chosen to restructure that debt it has to be dramatic. And all the noises that have been coming out of European capitals over the last few weeks give very little reason for confidence that massive debt relief will be on the table. And the timing of this debt relief negotiation, by the way, is as follows: under the bailout agreement in October there has to be an assessment made by the Troika about whether or not Greece is in compliance with the bailout. And if it is deemed to be in compliance, then a negotiation will take place over debt relief. So that would not happen until after October. And if, in fact, as I imagine is going to occur, there’s going to be nothing more than cosmetic debt relief put on the table. And the populace becomes aware, they come to understand that the Troika is not, despite all the sacrifices that the Greek people have made, going to substantially, dramatically restructure the debt, they’re much less likely to support the bailout. So I think that his decision to schedule the election in September likely is being influenced by his concern that an inadequate debt relief accord will work to his detriment in election. And the final factor that works in his favor if the election is held quickly is that the anti-bailout parties have been talking about forming a movement, that’s the word they used, if they’re going to contest this election and do it seriously they’re going to have to unite the anti-bailout parties of the left. And I’ve been in contact with someone who’s well placed within one of the anti-bailout parties of the left, and he tells me that it is unlikely if the election is held in September that all of them would be able to conclude negotiations that would permit them to form a united party to oppose Syriza and the parties of the right in this election. So I think that Tsipras understands that. He doesn’t want to give them time to organize. He doesn’t want to give them time to become a uniform, a united force. And so he has three pretty powerful reasons for scheduling this election very quickly. Nonetheless–. PERIES: Dimitri, given what you’re just saying about the inability of the Left Platform and the coalition that they might have to form in order to successfully compete in this election, do you think Alexis Tsipras will be successful in this political move and actually manage to gain more seats in parliament and consolidate power, which he’s hoping to do? LASCARIS: I think that’s very difficult to predict at this stage. I think his chances increase, his chances of succeeding in that regard will increase the faster the election is held. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to be confronted by stiff opposition. There is apparently a meeting going on in Athens tonight amongst the members of the Left Platform to decide whether to formally cede from the party and start their own political organization to oppose Syriza in this election, what remains of Syriza. And the rumor mill has it that Panayiotis Lafazanis, the leader of the Left Platform and the former energy minister who has vociferously opposed the bailout will emerge as the leader, and that Zoi Konstantopoulou, the highly-regarded president of the Greek parliament who’s been a thorn in the side of Alexis Tsipras ever since he came to that agreement in Brussels on July 13, that she will join this party. So even if the Left Platform does not succeed within the very little time available to it to form a united party of the left, in and of itself it could prove to be a formidable force in this election. Because of course, 60-plus percent of the population voted down an austerity package on July 5 that was less severe than the one to which the government ultimately acceded. There is a lot of discontent within the electorate. And if some credible party of the left can emerge with a plan to take Greece out of the eurozone that the population finds acceptable, and that from the population’s perspective gives rise to manageable risks, then you could see Syriza lose this election. So I think it’s very difficult at this stage to predict how it’s going to go. And if you look at the way the market’s reacting, the stock markets went down, stock market went down quite significantly in Greece today. A rating agency came out and said it’s going to have to reassess the credit profile of Greece because the bailout is now at risk. A lot of observers in the economic profession is saying that the Grexit, the possibility of Grexit, is back on the table. No one, I think, can say with a high level of confidence how all of this will play out. And it would not at all surprise me to see Alexis Tsipras displaced from power on September 20 when this election is going to be held, apparently. PERIES: And we’ll be watching. Dimitri, thank you so much for joining us today. LASCARIS: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.