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Greek Prime Minister Resigns To Pave Way For New Elections

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

After not quite seven months in office Greece's prime minister has resigned.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Foreign language spoken).

SIEGEL: The outgoing leader, Alexis Tsipras, called for early elections on September 20. His government was torn apart by the recent financial bailout worked out with the European Union to prevent Greece from defaulting on its huge debts. Several members of the governing party refused to back it, saying it robs Greece of its sovereignty and will keep the country in perpetual debt. Joanna Kakissis is on the line with us from Athens. And Joanna, why call elections now? The Greek parliament overwhelmingly approved the bailout earlier this month, and other European parliaments did so this week. Why now?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: You know, yeah, it seems like a crazy move, doesn't it - especially since there's actually been some semblance of stability since Greece almost went into complete default last month? But the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, he's been hinting for weeks that he's going to call early elections. And here's why. His leftist party, Syriza, was elected in January, in part, to end austerity measures, to end bailouts and to end this idea of Europeans overseeing the Greeks, bossing them around. But you know, Eurozone leaders never budged. And they said Greece had to follow their plan, or it got no loans. And the Greek government didn't have a plan B, you know, an alternative plan to finance the country. And the country can't access international markets because it's so hugely in debt. So it needed an alternative plan.

So as a result he was backed into a corner. He was forced to sign a bailout with much stricter conditions than he expected. And now he's got to restructure the entire Greek economy to please Eurozone lenders. He's got to modernize the public sector and the pension system to privatize lots of state assets, to open up competition in many professions. And you know, all that that just angered hardline leftists. They voted against the bailout, and they say they no longer support their own leader

SIEGEL: So how will calling elections solve any of the political problems that Tsipras is facing?

KAKISSIS: Well, he says he's no longer has a mandate to govern, and that's because Greeks, you know, they elected him to do something other than what he's doing. So he says him wants the people to speak, even if it's - even if the last thing people want to do right now is to have another set of elections. People are really sick of elections here. His party is expected to win these elections because public opinion polls show it's pretty comfortably in the lead. It also shows that most Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone. And some analysts are saying that he's calling these elections to consolidate power in his own party - to weed out those radicals who are opposed to the bailout.

SIEGEL: That would make things more stable in Athens, I suppose. But there's also risk that an election might lead to greater instability as well.

KAKISSIS: Yes, it could because, you know, this country has had so many leaders in the past few years. And the other Eurozone leaders, you know, they negotiated with this government on the bailout plan. And now after September they may have to deal with a whole new crew, and they're not going to like that. You know - and instability is actually the last thing Greece needs right now.

Aside from the economic crisis it's very well known that this country is facing a huge migration crisis. Thousands of refugees and migrants - and many of them fleeing the war in Syria - they're arriving on Greek islands from Turkey every week, thousands of them. And the government is so distracted by infighting - by political infighting that it cannot even begin to manage this huge humanitarian crisis on its own door and on Europe's door.

SIEGEL: That's Joanna Kakissis reporting from Athens. Joanna, thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.