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Europe

Fresh start for Tsipras?

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has reshuffled his cabinet and is attempting a fresh start. Well-known leftists have been sent packing. But some believe the prime minister is simply filling time until the next election.

Griechenland Neue griechische Regierung vereidigt in Athen

Tsipras' new cabinet members were sworn in on Saturday morning

The most prominent victim of Greece's government reshuffle on Saturday was Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, largely seen as the leader of Syriza's inner party opposition.

Earlier this week, Lafazanis ignored the party line and voted against the budget cuts presented by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the Athenian parliament on Wednesday. His position will be filled by the party's former speaker Panos Skourletis, a close ally of the prime minister.

Former Deputy Welfare Minister Dimitris Stratoulis, perhaps the second most important figure in the party's left wing, has also been told to pack up his office, along with the Argentine born Deputy Defense Minister Kosta Isichos.

Does Saturday's shake-up mean that the path is now clear for the pro-European, moderate faction of the party? George Tzogopoulos, a political scientist with the Athens-based think tank Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) doesn't think so.

Jorgos Tzogopoulos Think Tank ELIAMEP in Athen

Tzogopoulos thinks Tsipras' decision will be detrimental to the country's economy and political stability

"What we were expecting was a new orientation of Athens' politics, and a cabinet with a lot of new faces - maybe even with independent experts. But that isn't what we got," he told DW.

Instead, Tsipras has simply put together a cabinet meant to fill the time between now and an eventual new election. But Tzogopoulos thinks that decision will be detrimental to the country's economy and political stability.

In any case, the possibility of an election in the fall is more than just a rumor, with the government itself stoking the speculation. Recently, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said that an election in September, or October at the latest, was certainly an option.

Head on attack

Political analyst Stratos Ballis, however, offers a more nuanced assessment. "Everything that reminds people of the powerful left wing of the party will be swept away," he said, speaking on Greek TV network Skai. "This government reshuffle marks the official split between the prime minister and his inner party opposition."

Ballis also suggested that many vacated seats would now be handed out as rewards to the coalition right-wing populists, who despite a number of verbal missteps have remained loyal to the prime minister.

With an unusually harsh tone, Syriza's party newspaper "I Avgi " attacked the 39 dissenters who voted against, or abstained from voting for, the budget cuts. If the dissenters were trying to give the impression that they alone were acting in accordance with Syriza's party line, and not the prime minister, then that would in fact prompt the question of whether their attitude was even politically serious, wrote " I Avgi." The attitude, the paper went on, was like the old saying: "We'll wash our hands of guilt, and let others pick the chestnuts out of the flames."

The commentary was undoubtedly a reference to the fact that Tsipras wasn't really counting on the votes of the dissenters. It was clear that he would be able to pass the budget cuts through parliament with the help of the opposition. In other words, the accusation is that since the rest of the parliamentarians would pass the cuts at any rate, the 39 had decided that they wanted to offer up a little more rebellion, at the expense of the own colleagues.

Opposition in paralysis

At this point, it's unclear how Greece's opposition parties will position themselves in the fight for power and influence. Opinion polls aren't encouraging: Approval ratings for the Conservatives, in power until last January, have stagnated and are at about 20 percent. The formerly all powerful Socialists are fading into insignificance and will be hard pressed to even make it into parliament in an upcoming vote.

New York Rede Evangelos Venizelos UN-Vollversammlung 27.09.2014

Venizelos: Tsipras is profiting handsomely from the support of the opposition parties

Only the pro-European, social democratic styled party To Potami has reason to be hopeful, with encouraging poll results. But the radical right-wing party Golden Dawn, currently the third strongest faction in Greece, is also hoping to make gains.

Although most of the opposition parties are weak and searching for their own way forward, they have expressly shown their support for Tsipras in his efforts to enact the controversial reform measures. The leftist prime minister is profiting handsomely from that fact - perhaps too handsomely, according to former Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos.

"In this house, it appears that we have two different government majorities: a majority for agreeable laws, which are carried by the members from the left - and another majority for all of the unpleasant laws, which the opposition is called upon to pass," said Venizelos, speaking in parliament recently. "This cannot continue to go on, and is contrary to the standing orders of this body."