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13° Nicosia,
18 February, 2019
 
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Ticking bombs

All Greek prime ministers have to prove that they have the skills of a political bomb-disposal expert

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

At some point in their tenure, all Greek prime ministers have to prove that they have the skills of a political bomb-disposal expert. They are handed a ticking bomb or two and are expect to neutralize it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they are injured by the shrapnel and sometimes they manage to save themselves but not the people.

The way things stand right now, and if public opinion polls are confirmed, main opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis may be handed one, two, maybe three ticking bombs that will not take too long to explode. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will carefully weigh when to hold elections, evaluating whether and when those bombs may go off.

One such issue in the coming months will be the banks. The unfavorable international economic climate and investor fatigue with the Greek story have created a negative environment. Disastrous scenarios like a bail-in are completely rejected by European officials qualified to discuss the issue. But whether and how the money will be found to recapitalize banks is far from clear. Someone will have to make tough decisions about creating a bad bank, possible mergers and sharp cost reductions. Who will draw the short straw? Nobody knows.

A second issue will be that of law and order. The situation is out of control and it is seen worsening as we move closer to the elections and following a possible victory by New Democracy. The law for reducing overcrowding at the country’s prisons, the government’s deliberate inaction, the chaos in prisons and the uncontrolled situation in refugee camps form an explosive mix.

Cynics predict that everyone from street-level troublemakers to the toughest supporters of violence will go all out with a new government, aiming to destabilize it quickly. There is no simple solution to the issue, because police operations alone will only add fuel to a fire that never ceased to burn and may be bigger than Greek society can handle.

The last “bomb” that Tsipras may choose to pass off to Mitsotakis is the name agreement with Skopje. If the issue has not been resolved, or is still in the process of being ratified by our neighbor, its solution will not be easy. Pressure from abroad will be strong. Requesting some changes to the deal so that it can be accepted will not be a walk in the park, as the climate in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has become very toxic.

There are other ticking bombs, such as the issue of the public power utility PPC, but we do not need to increase the suspense. And as we have said before, the prime minister’s job in this country is not the easiest, it does not come with any kind of security and, lately, does not even offer a noteworthy pension.

 

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