Hats off to Alexis Tsipras. In hindsight, we should not have believed that the Greek PM was facing a tough challenge in his bid for re-election.
True, polls showed Syriza neck-and-neck with its nearest rival – the New Democracy conservatives – but the lesson from recent history is that Tsipras has a remarkable ability to convince Greeks to back him.
Last month some commentators were saying that he would be rocked by an acrimonious split in Syriza, with anti-bailout zealots abandoning the party. More recently, some said that a low turnout would be dangerous enough to see Syriza defeated.
Both factors turned out to be largely irrelevant, with the rebels – who split off from Syriza and became known as Popular Unity – struggling to even reach three per cent of the vote.
A miserably low turnout, of around 55 per cent, could not stop Syriza from being declared the winners with over 35 per cent of the vote – a stunning success for Tsipras, whose penchant for a plebiscite often frustrated Eurozone officials.
Greece’s new parliament will resemble very closely the one formed in January, when Tsipras and his radical anti-austerity movement swept to power. Yet this time it will be charged with implementing a bailout package that many Greeks, at the start of the year, believed they were voting to avoid.
Tsipras sounded upbeat last night as he hailed a “victory [that] belongs to the working classes”, but the low turnout reflected a feeling of subdued resignation among the Greek demos.
Unemployment is still exceptionally high; nearly a quarter of the workforce is officially jobless, 16 per cent of whom voted for far-right party Golden Dawn, according to exit polls – with a further 15 per cent voting for the Communist party.
Gone is the feel-good factor and sense of optimism that accompanied Syriza’s historic rise to prominence nine months ago, and in its place is wary acquiescence.
Despite winning three elections in 2015 alone, Tsipras said last night that he does not want to fight another for at least four years.
There is no guarantee that he will get his wish. Discontent with Greece’s economic plight still makes for a dangerous and febrile political climate.
With bailout talks and political wrangling out of the way, it’s time to see whether Tsipras is as good at governing as he is at winning votes.