ATHENS: The leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party vowed Friday to restore “dignity” to the hugely-indebted country if they win Sunday’s general election as expected.
Alexis Tsipras, 40, has campaigned on a pledge to renegotiate Greece’s 318 billion euro ($357 billion) debt mountain and said he was steeling himself for a “major confrontation” with the country’s international creditors.
He said Greece had been humiliated by the demands of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, who demanded deep spending cuts in return for a 240-billion-euro bailout which began in 2010.
“We will do whatever it takes to save the dignity of our people,” Tsipras told a press conference on Friday.
“In the name of the crisis and the bailout deal, EU charter obligations are not obeyed. The human rights charter is not applied, labour laws that exist in Europe are not applied, fundamental democratic rights are not respected,” he said.
Some analysts fear that Syriza’s hardline approach to the debt negotiations could push Greece out of the eurozone, potentially plunging the European single currency into crisis.
Two days before voting, some polls give Syriza a projected lead of more than five percent over its conservative rivals, New Democracy. One poll, by Palmos Analysis, gave Tsipras’ party a lead of almost 10 percent.
The Syriza leader urged Greeks to give his party an absolute majority on Sunday. That would give him “the necessary strength” to negotiate with his European partners.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party look set to be punished by voters for sticking to the austerity measures demanded by the IMF and the EU.
In his party’s closing rally, the PM warned that it would be folly for Greece to bring in Syriza when the fiscal reforms are just about to pay off.
“Syriza will turn all of Europe against Greece…. They don’t understand Europe, they don’t believe in Europe,” he said.
“The Tsipras accident will not happen. We will not let them turn us back,” Samaras said.
Tsipras said Thursday’s announcement by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi of a 1.14-trillion-euro ($1.27-trillion) bond-buying plans to boost lending and economic growth showed that “two rival strategies are colliding in Europe”.
“One of them, the Protestant logic of Schaeuble and Merkel, says ‘laws above all’,” Tsipras said.
“The other says, ‘whatever it takes’, as Draghi said.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble are seen by Greeks as taking the hardest line on budgetary rigour in the eurozone.
But Merkel insisted Friday she wanted Greece to stick with the euro.
“At the heart of our principles lies solidarity. I want Greece, despite the difficulties, to remain part of our story,” she said at a press conference in Florence with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Renzi said he was confident that all of the EU member nations would work with whomever wins the Greek election “with great willingness.”
Tsipras on Friday ruled out direct talks with Merkel on the debt, saying any negotiations would take place with all 28 EU nations.
The Greek stock market closed up more than six percent Friday on the back of the ECB’s bond-buying plans.
Samaras argued that if Greeks turn away from austerity and elect Syriza, they could miss out on a potentially huge new injection of ECB funds.
“Europe has opened its wallet…. It’s important, when the wallet is opening, that we are not left holding an umbrella when it’s raining money,” Samaras told ANT1 TV earlier in the day.
In an attempt to show that Greece is not alone in kicking back against austerity, Tsipras was joined at his final campaign rally on Thursday by Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos party.
After a warm embrace between the two leaders, Iglesias said: “A wind of democratic change is blowing over Greece. In Greece, this change is called Syriza. In Spain, it’s called Podemos.”
The IMF on Thursday downplayed the possibility that Greece would exit the eurozone if Syriza is elected.
“We do not see ‘Grexit’ as a possible outcome,” IMF spokesman Bill Murray said.