August 25, 2015 / 8:34 AM / in 2 years

Greece's Syriza projects election confidence despite split

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s radical left Syriza party can win re-election with an outright majority, a senior member said on Tuesday, and govern without relying on other parties that backed its hard-fought bailout deal with international creditors.

Greek outgoing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves his party's headquarters in Athens, Greece, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Panos Skourletis, energy minister in the Syriza-led government which resigned last week, also said the nation must avoid deadlock leading to a second round of elections - a scenario that politicians are already debating even though a first round has yet to be called.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who during his seven months in office took Greece to the brink of financial collapse and exit from the euro, resigned last week in the hope of crushing a far-left rebellion in Syriza and strengthening his grip on power through a snap election.

Skourletis, a close aide to Tsipras, told Mega TV: “I believe that an absolute majority in parliament for Syriza is achievable.”

Syriza is banking on the assumption that Tsipras remains popular for standing up to Greece’s euro zone and IMF creditors, even though he eventually caved in and accepted their demands for more austerity and economic reforms in return for 86 billion euros ($99 billion) in bailout loans.

It is not clear whether the party’s confidence is justified. No opinion poll has been published since July 24, well before Tsipras resigned and a group of far-left rebels broke away from Syriza. New polls are expected to appear shortly as voters return from their holidays.

Analysts widely expect Syriza to emerge from a snap election as the biggest party but without an absolute majority, forcing Tsipras to find a coalition partner. If coalition talks failed, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos would have to call on the second- and third-biggest parties to form a government, failing which the country would return to elections.

Skourletis opposed such a scenario. “We must avoid this. Some things have their limits. People know this and will vote in such a way so that we do not end up in a jam,” he said.

He played down the possibility of a post-election deal with the main pro-bailout groups - the conservative New Democracy, centrist To Potami or the PASOK socialists - because of what he called a lack of common ground.

POLITICAL MANEUVERING

Since Tsipras quit last Thursday, the president has tasked two opposition parties with trying to form a new government in the apparently forlorn hope of avoiding an early election.

With parties deeply divided over the bailout - Greece’s third since 2010 - and its tough conditions, New Democracy has already failed to find coalition partners.

Now Popular Unity, the far-left breakaway from Syriza, is going through the motions. Its leader, Panagiotis Lafazanis, has already admitted defeat and is using his three-day presidential mandate merely to win air time for his anti-bailout message.

After a meeting with the conservative opposition, Lafazanis appealed to the president to hold the election on Sept. 27, a week later than expected, in a bid to buy more time for the opposition to campaign and make a dent in Tsipras’s popularity.

Once his mandate expires on Thursday, Pavlopoulos is expected to make one final attempt to forge compromise among the parties. As this is also nearly certain to fail, he will then appoint a caretaker premier and call elections within 30 days.

Potentially delaying the electoral process further, conservative opposition leader Vangelis Meimarakis urged the president not to skip a political leaders’ meeting after Lafazanis hands back his mandate, saying it was imperative for all party leaders to meet to decide on a caretaker government.

“If some do not show up, at least the issue of the caretaker government can be discussed, because, in my view, the government with which we will go to elections is something very serious,” he told reporters.

Greeks are starting to worry the election might fail to end the paralysis just as the country is supposed to be implementing the bailout measures.

If Tsipras wants to jettison the hard left, leaving Syriza as a party a little closer to the center that accepts the bailout, he has work to do.

Altogether 43 out of 149 Syriza lawmakers rebelled earlier this month by refusing to back the bailout in parliament. But only 25 subsequently formed Popular Unity. That means a sizeable number of anti-bailout lawmakers remain in the party, including the combative speaker of parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Popular Unity appealed to Syriza doubters to defect. “Being pro-bailout and anti-bailout in the same party cannot go on,” said Costas Lapavitsas, one of the breakaway group.

“The third bailout is from the same womb as the previous ones. It will bring austerity and recession with a rise in unemployment,” Lapavitsas, an economist who argues Greece would be better off leaving the euro, told Mega TV.

Additional reporting by Greg Roumeliotis and Deepa Babington, writing by David Stamp; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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