Now-former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras plans explains his intention to soften a new austerity deal struck with the country's creditors which is disliked by his constituents but he said was unavoidable. File Photo by UPI/Hugo Philpott | License Photo
THESSALONIKI, Greece, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- Former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a policy speech Sunday night reiterated that he is best fit to improve on the austerity agreement his government agreed to several weeks ago with European creditors.
Tsipras resigned in August after the agreement was reached in order to drum up additional support for it, though recent polling has shown his leftist Syriza party slipping in popularity.
Tsipras is running to regain his job, attempting to position himself as the best-placed leader to improve on the agreement because he's the one who negotiated it, pointing to "open-ended" issues that can be improved upon. In the speech, he referred to "strong government intervention, with state investment to redistribute incomes" and "social economy ventures with subsidized wage costs."
The Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying the agreement "is a text deliberately open on certain issues and offers the possibility of finding equivalent measures through negotiation."
Tsipras was elected prime minister in January on campaign promises to reject any new austerity measures, but when the Greek economy nearly collapsed, he abandoned the promise and agreed to a bailout package that included deeply unpopular tax increases and pension cuts. The move was made to prevent a forced national bankruptcy and exit from the European Union.
After months of grappling with creditors over Greece's crippling debt issues, Tsipras agreed to the new austerity package in a turnaround from the previous manifesto he and the Syriza party had been elected on at the beginning of the year.
The package -- unpopular with most Syriza party members, including those who voted for it -- includes several tax increases and further privatization of government projects.
"We have compromised but we have not been compromised," The Wall Street Journal quoted Tsipras as saying. "We decided to put the country above our own party."
The Syriza manifesto voters elected was built on intentions for the government to increase public spending, enact further tax cuts, and work toward labor protections meant to overturn austerity measures enacted in recent years.
Tsipras has said he intends to soften the edges of the austerity agreement, including scrapping a new 23 percent value-added tax on private education and rolling back privatization projects from an agreed 23 percent to just 9 percent.
In recent days, the Syriza party, split over the new austerity plan, has seen its poll numbers drop. The conservative New Democracy party, which helped to pass adoption of the new bailout into law, has made gains with Greek voters because of uncertainty about either party as both criticize the agreement they made. A poll conducted in late August put Syriza and New Democracy even, at 27 percent.
"A return of New Democracy will be a return to corruption and cronyism," The Wall Street Journal quoted Tsipras as saying.
"It is the first time in Greece that no one has the ownership of the bailout," Wolfango Piccoli, a managing director at the political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence, told The Wall Street Journal. "Even the creditors don't back it vigorously; the International Monetary Fund hasn't yet committed to take part in the bailout. This makes it very difficult to sell it to the public, as another round of austerity and pain is coming."
The new election will be held Sept. 20, with questions about a coalition government being formed because of how close polls have gotten in recent days as Greeks continue to debate the plan.
Fred Lambert contributed to this report.