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21 August 2015updated 12 Oct 2023 11:00am

Syriza splits: how will Popular Unity fare?

Tsipras is still expected to win despite the anti-austerity splinter.   

By George Eaton

After accepting punitive austerity in return for a third bailout, Alexis Tsipras was always going to struggle to keep Syriza together. Last week, 43 MPs from the left of the Greek PM’s party rebelled and voted against the decision. Former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis vowed to lead a national movement “against the new memorandum”. Threats of expulsions swirled around. It felt as if the centre could not hold. 

Today, following Tsipras’s resignation, and in advance of a new election, Syriza has formally split. Twenty five of the rebels have formed a new party, Popular Unity, led by Lafazanis. The grouping becomes the third largest in the Greek Parliament after Syriza (124 seats) and the right-wing New Democracy (76). It shares its name with the left-wing alliance that helped Salvador Allende to power in the 1970 Chilean presidential election. 

So, just as Syriza condemned the once hegemonic PASOK to near-irrelevance, could Popular Unity do the same to Syriza? For now, at least, it will struggle to do so. Despite being elected on an anti-austerity platform, Tsipras retains support among voters for his battle with the Troika and is expected to win the forthcoming contest. Many recongise sustained austerity as the inevitable consequence of continued euro membership. Tsipras will also be relieved that big beasts, such as the speaker Zoe Konstantopulou and former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who opposed the bailout deal, have not joined the new party. 

Meanwhile, as Labour holds its leadership election, the Syriza splinter is a reminder of the fate it has avoided. Were it not for the UK’s anachronistic first-past-the-post system, the party may well have split. But the daunting obstacles to success (Ukip has one MP with 12.7 per cent of the vote) mean that neither the left nor the right has dared try. And the tribal nature of British politics means that few, in any case, truly want to. 

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