By Nick Squires, and Menelaos Tzafalias in Athens 23 January 2015
A potential kingmaker in the Greek election, To Potami, says the radical left-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s election is not to be trusted
Election material for Potami (River) candidate Nikolas Giatromanolakis in Athens, Greece Photo: Dimitris Legakis
A new political party that could prove key to the formation of Greece’s new government has said the radical left-wing coalition expected to win Sunday’s election is not to be trusted.
To Potami was established less than a year ago but is expected to become Greece’s third largest party behind Syriza, the extreme leftist coalition that wants to cut half the country’s €318 billion debt, and New Democracy, which has governed for the past three years.
If Syriza fail to achieve an absolute majority, as most analysts predict, they may have to turn to To Potami to forge an alliance in order to be able to form a government, having ruled out any such pact with New Democracy.
But a founder of To Potami, which means "The River", told The Telegraph that there are many key disagreements between the two parties, a gulf that throws another wild card into an election that will prove crucial for Greece’s relations with Europe, and its chance of economic recovery after six years of recession.
Nicholas Yatromanolakis said repeated threats by Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s leader, to renege on Greece’s debts to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund are dangerous and unrealistic, and that Syriza’s plans for a massive public spending splurge could set the country back years.
“I don’t trust Syriza and I don’t trust the fact that each person in the party says something different on economic and social issues and on their plan for growth, if indeed they have one,” said Mr Yatromanolakis, a former Harvard academic and now a business consultant.
“We agree that Europe handled the Greek crisis poorly and that a lot of mistakes were made.
“But going from that position to saying ‘we will cancel the debt’, that’s not a serious response, it’s more like the whim of a teenager,” said Mr Yatromanolakis, 39, who hopes to be elected as an MP for a central Athens constituency.
“Mr Tsipras says different things to different audiences. He presents himself abroad as a moderate but is more radical in his message when he speaks to Greeks. The only glue holding Syriza together is its anti-bailout rhetoric.”
Mr Tsipras says the size of the debt is “unbearable” and that it simply cannot be repaid. “We will seek ... to erase the largest part of the (national) debt,” he said.
Analysts say it will be impossible for Syriza to have it both ways – abandoning IMF and EU-imposed austerity while remaining inside the euro zone.
"Staying in the euro, being in power and undoing the bailout programme is an 'impossible trinity' for Syriza, in our view," the investment bankers Morgan Stanley said in a note this week. "That's inconsistent, so one of these three has to give.”
Financial analysts fear that a win by Syriza could lead to a bruising showdown with the EU and IMF and push Greece towards bankruptcy or even out of the euro zone altogether.
Despite their misgivings, politicians from To Potami said they might be willing to make a deal with Syriza, but under strict conditions, should the leftist coalition fail to win a clear majority of 150 or more seats in the 300-seat parliament.
Recent polls show that To Potami are likely to win between five and seven per cent of the vote, making the party a potential kingmaker in a highly fractured political landscape.
“The only way we could enter an alliance is if there was a very clear framework about what the government would be about. It would have to be very specific. We will not give a blank cheque to Syriza. We will not do that,” said Mr Yatromanolakis, who left his job teaching Balkan studies at Harvard a decade ago to return to Greece and work in the private sector as an executive.
He was To Potami’s campaign manager for the European elections last May, when the party won nearly seven per cent of the vote, less than three months after it was founded.
His centrist party’s agenda consists of trimming Greece’s bloated bureaucracy, offering incentives for new businesses and providing free health care for all, to help the millions of Greeks who can no longer afford medicines and operations.
To Potami says it will honour Greece’s debts but wants to negotiate a longer time-frame in which to pay them back.
“We need a totally different mindset in Greece,” said the aspiring MP during an interview in a centre for start-up businesses in a graffiti-covered street in Athens.
“The mentality has been that rules are there to be broken, especially if you have connections. “There has to be a seismic change. It’s not an easy task and we don’t have a magic wand to make it happen overnight. But we at least have to try.”