Debt-free and proud: Greece under the leftists

No debt repayments, higher salaries and freedom from EU-IMF tutelage: Greece under the radical leftists, who are poised to win a June 17 election, seems a world removed from its current recession nightmare.

The Syriza party has pledged to tear up Greece's loan agreement with the EU and the IMF, which is currently keeping the country on its feet but at the cost of an unprecedented wave of austerity cuts and structural reforms.

If implemented, such a programme, which would also mean the nationalisation of banks and a halt to privatisation, could well mean Greece's ejection from the eurozone, potentially sending shockwaves through the global economy.

Fed up with two years of salary and pension cuts, Greek voters on May 6 punished larger parties associated with the bailout and catapulted Syriza to second place, within striking distance of the top.

Opinion polls show that the radical leftists, only the fifth party in 2009, could even emerge as the victors in this month's repeat ballot.

The condensed programme of the loosely-knit coalition of moderate Communists, Trotskyists, ecologists and other leftist groups was announced on June 1.

In it, the party's leading minds set out their vision for a more equitable Greece, liberated from the excesses of capitalism, heavy industry and political corruption.

Under Syriza's blueprint, state loan repayments to service a debt of over 350 billion euros ($433 billion) are to be frozen to free funds for social support programmes.

The privatisation of major public companies -- a key condition of the EU-IMF bailout deal -- is to be suspended as well.

Greek banks that draw on European support funds to recapitalise themselves after a landmark state debt cut brokered by the previous government in March will be "nationalised and socialised."

And the EU-IMF bailout deal, dubbed here the "memorandum," which the leftists say has brought only recession and misery to Greece, is to be rejected and redrawn from scratch.

"The first act of the government of the Left will be to annul the memorandum and its application laws," Syriza's 37-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras said on Friday.

"We will seek a new renegotiation of the debt at European level, aiming to drastically reduce it, or a debt moratorium and a suspension of interest payments until conditions for the stabilisation and recovery of the economy are created," Tsipras said during a presentation of the party's revised programme.

A previous version of Syriza's platform, drawn up in April, had pledged to outlaw offshore company dealings and shut down NATO bases in Greece.

The revised version released on Friday plans a withdrawal from NATO operations, starting from Greece's mission to Afghanistan, and a future "disengagement" from the military alliance altogether.

"At a time when the international balance shifts and US hegemony increasingly comes into question, the policy of Euro-Atlanticism and complying with NATO war plans has no future," said senior party member Thodoris Dritsas.

The older parties Syriza decimated on May 6, the socialist Pasok and the New Democracy conservatives, have dismissed its programme as unrealistic and Tsipras as an arrogant demagogue still wet behind the ears.

"Those who speak of a one-sided rejection of the bailout are like children playing with matches inside an armoury," New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said during a presentation of his party's own programme on May 31.

Syriza's leading economist Yiannis Dragasakis, a former junior finance minister in 1990, believes Greece could take a political decision to reject the loan agreement and dump unwanted labour reforms yet still retain vital EU-IMF loans.

"Some elements of the bailout deal can be rejected unilaterally. Others require cooperation to do so," he said in a recent televised interview.

Even European MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit -- a left-wing icon and staunch critic of Greece's bailout terms -- recently dismissed Syriza's plans to reverse wage cuts as "idiotic".

"Europe will give no more money, Greek coffers are empty," he told a Greens news conference on May 23, after Tsipras had visited Paris and Berlin.

"It's like asking someone 'how would you like to commit suicide, with a gun or an axe?'" he said.

In March, Syriza sued Germany's Bild newspaper for a million euros ($1.26 million) after it allegedly portrayed Tsipras as a "half-criminal" who "openly supports violent anarchists."

"Will these radicals soon be governing Greece?," the tabloid asked its readers.


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