Seven months after he was elected on a promise to overturn austerity, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced he is stepping down to pave the way for snap elections next month. As the debt-crippled country received the first tranche of a punishing new €86bn (£61bn) bailout, Tsipras said on Thursday he felt “a moral obligation to place this deal in front of the people, to allow them to judge … both what I have achieved, and my mistakes”. The 41-year-old Greek leader is still popular with voters for having at least tried to stand up to the country’s creditors and his leftwing Syriza party is likely to be returned to power in the imminent general election, which government officials told Greek media was most likely to take place on 20 September. The prime minister insisted in an address on public television that he was proud of his time in office and had got “a good deal for the country”, despite bringing it “close to the edge”. He added he was “shortly going to submit my resignation, and the resignation of my government, to the president”. The prime minister will be replaced for the duration of the short campaign by the president of Greece’s supreme court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou – a vocal bailout opponent – as head of a caretaker government.
Tsipras won parliamentary backing for the tough bailout programme last week by a comfortable margin but suffered a major rebellion among members of his ruling Syriza party, nearly one-third of whose 149 MPs either voted against the deal or abstained.
The revolt by hardliners, angry at what they view as a betrayal of the party’s anti-austerity pledges, left Tsipras short of the 120 votes he would need – two-fifths of the 300-seat assembly – to survive a censure motion, leading to speculation he would call an early confidence vote.
He has now decided to skip that step, opting instead to go straight to the country in an attempt to silence the rebels and shore up public support for the three-year bailout programme, which entails a radical overhaul of the Greek economy and major reforms of health, welfare, pensions and taxation.