Greeks will elect a new parliament on Sunday. Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is fighting for his political survival as polls put his Syriza party well behind their conservative rivals.
"On Sunday morning the ballot boxes will still be empty," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stresses. It is a line he often repeats on the campaign trail. What he means by this is no matter what the polls say, his supporters should not get discouraged.
Yet there is good reason for Greece's ruling leftist party, Syriza, to be discouraged: The conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, or ND) has a clear lead in the polls.
That would make opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis the country's next prime minister. And if things go as planned, he could even take over with a ruling majority. "We are fighting for every vote and we want to build a strong government so that Mitsotakis can quickly implement his campaign promises," Konstantinos Kyranakis, an ND candidate in Athens, told DW.
But the game isn't over yet. "I think we'll win the parliamentary election; I simply refuse to give up hope," Kostas Arvanitis, a newly elected member of the European Parliament from the Syriza party, told DW. He believes polls today cannot be trusted: "Who would have thought Liverpool would beat Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League?"
But the joking stops when it is time to defend his own party's policies: "Syriza finished its job; it ended austerity in Greece, and cleaned out the Augean stables," says the former journalist in a thunderously confident tone. He says one of the "greatest successes" of the Tsipras government is the fact that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) no longer controls Greece's finances. He calls it a "crime" that former PASOK party Prime Minister George Papandreou brought the IMF to Athens after the country's debt crisis began.
Fighting over economic policy
When Syriza's Tsipras led the opposition, he demonized the austerity program imposed on Greece and argued for massive debt relief instead. Yet after his election in 2015, economic realism set in. Still, the closer the election gets, the more Greek voters get to see of the old fighter that Tsipras was back then.
He spins his economic flip-flop from 2015 thus: "We naively believed that Europe would respect the decision of the Greek people," he said Tuesday on Skai TV.
Tsipras has vehemently warned voters of the dangers of a change in government. He says that austerity policy will return if Mitsotakis is elected, risking a reversal of all the successful reform measures implemented by him and his administration over the past four years.
Opposition politician Kyranakis refutes this, countering: "The last conservative government brought the country's raging deficit under control back then, and put Greece on a path of economic growth." He claims Tsipras has been waffling and has done nothing more than create a €30 billion ($34 billion) mountain of new debt.
Konstantinos Botopoulos — a candidate for the socialist KINAL party, a new center-left alliance including the former party of government, PASOK — is also critical of Tsipras' rhetoric. The question of "conservative austerity or leftist handouts" is an artificial dilemma that is being misused for campaign purposes, he says. In reality, Botopoulos argues, Syriza has already accepted the savings measures dictated by international creditors.
Fighting for left-leaning voters
Tsipras is tirelessly fighting a battle on two fronts: Against the conservatives, but also against the seemingly resuscitated center-left, which had been banished into the shadows but now hopes to post double-digit results on Sunday.
Even if the leftist prime minister loses Sunday's vote, he hopes to at least achieve his goal of cementing Syriza as the strongest party on the left of the political spectrum. All signs indicate that he will, yet KINAL candidate Botopoulos says the question of a fight on the left is superfluous. He says KINAL is the only social-democratic alternative, because Syriza is neither social-democratic nor leftist.
For his part, Syriza politician Arvanitis doesn't see the social democrats as a true challenger, but he is paying attention to them for a different reason altogether: "When you are in a race, you always pay attention to the guy running in front of you or beside you; it really doesn't matter who finishes behind you."