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Greek elections: PM Alexis Tsipras back in power, thousands throng Athens in support

Gae Leanza | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:46 IST

On Sunday, Athens erupted in celebration as the leftwing coalition, Syriza, outpolled its conservative opponents in Greece's sixth election in five years. A massive crowd, waving the Greek flag, flocked to the city's central marquee. Chanting, cheering and chest-beating, they stood to hail the return of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Tsipras, a former civil engineer who first came to power earlier this year, had resigned in August after he was pressured into signing a harsh bailout plan pushed by European creditors.

Now, as Syriza regains parliament and the popular vote, the people of Greece shout once more, with feeling: down with austerity, down with the old corrupt system, and, most critically, down with crippling external debt.

Yet, unlike in his electoral campaign, this time Tsipras isn't promising a quick fix to economic and social woes. "We have difficulties ahead," he said in a speech late Sunday. "Recovery cannot come through magic but through lots of hard work, stubbornness and struggle."

Here, what Tsipras really means is that the debt crisis still looms over Greece, limiting its sovereignty as though the government were forced to constantly kowtow to an aggressive loan shark, one that just happens to be the European Union.

In July, when Tsipras approved a multi-billion euro emergency deal, the money sailed in with strings attached: Eurocrats demanded Greece impose higher taxes, a higher retirement age, and the privatisation of public assets, like the selling off of state-run airports to the highest bidder.

Many in Greece viewed the bailout as a betrayal by Tsipras. Seemingly, he shifted from one extreme to another: An absolute "no" on austerity measures, in January, to a weak-kneed surrender by mid-summer. The turnaround, which shocked even Tsipras' staunchest supporters, nearly spelled the end of Syriza.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at Athens' Old Royal Palace. Riot police retaliated with tear gas and water cannons. Twenty five ministers, a band to the left of the left, rebelled from Syriza to create another faction, the Unity Party, which was all but ready to replace the Euro with that ancient Greek currency, the Drachma.

But, by and large, Greece has been forgiving to Tsipras. Or, at least, they believe his coalition can win consolations right wing parties aren't willing to fight for. For the time being, for a nation with not much left to lose, Syriza still represents a chance to ameliorate some of the worst cutbacks the European Commission (EC), The International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB) want to hoist on lower and middle-class Greeks. Though Tsipras has lost battles before, he remains a popular figure, and one that just may do something for the poor, the fed-up, the bankrupt.

First published: 21 September 2015, 1:39 IST