BRUSSELS — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras resigned Thursday, calling snap elections in his economically embattled nation in a bid to combat dissent within his own party.
The decision injected fresh uncertainty into Greece’s turbulent economics. The nation last month narrowly escaped being cast out of the euro currency zone and instead took on a new round of austerity in exchange for its third bailout in five years.
Tsipras aims to win a renewed mandate for his firebrand populism, but he has faced a rebellion inside his own Syriza political party.
The scrappy collection of Marxist economics professors, activists and other leftist politicians has been split after Tsipras agreed to the bailout deal last month after weeks of turmoil, shuttered banks and an economy that started to run out of cash. Some dissenters in the party say Greece should have risked going it alone andpossibly should have left the euro altogether.
Syriza remains atop public opinion polls, and the decision to call snap elections was not entirely unexpected. Tsipras is bidding to solidify his standing and perhaps take the reins of a new governing coalition.
But in the tumultuous world of Greek politics, much could change in the month before the election is likely to take place.
“I am proud of our time in office,” Tsipras said in an address from outside his office that was broadcast live to the nation. “Europe is not the same since we took power in January.”
In his half-hour speech, Tsipras said that the bailout had saved the nation from economic collapse and that he now had a “moral obligation” to give Greeks a chance to accept or reject his decision. He called for fresh backing from a Greek nation where he remains tremendously popular.
If Tsipras is reelected, he will have completed a remarkable journey for a man who came to office this year vowing to transform Europe’s austerity-driven economic formulas for growth and replace them with a new brand of social justice. Instead, after last month’s flip-flops, it is Europe that has transformed Tsipras, forcing him to rule as a conventional center-left leader and to implement painful budget cuts and economic overhauls.
The country on Thursday received the first installment of its $96 billion bailout. But Tsipras’s decision to step down calls into question whether Greek leaders can truly live up to bailout conditions that require them to come up with new budget proposals by October.
Tsipras threw Europe into turmoil at the end of June when he called a surprise referendum on whether to accept or reject the tough terms of the bailout. Greeks overwhelmingly sided with him, rejecting the deal. But Europe held firm, and in the end, Tsipras was forced to agree to even tougher terms than he started with because Greece’s economy was so hurt by the ensuing weeks of instability.
In the meantime, Greece had to shut down much of its financial system, closing banks and strictly limiting cash withdrawals from ATMs. Restrictions on transferring money out of the country forced many Greek businesses to give up on buying from abroad, a towering problem for a nation where little is produced domestically.
Opinion polls in late July showed Syriza was supported by 33 percent of voters, well ahead of its nearest competitor in Greece’s fragmented political system. But last week, more than a quarter of Syriza lawmakers refused to vote with Tsipras in Parliament to implement the bailout, forcing him to rely on opposition votes to carry measures.
Ahead of the elections, Greece will probably be ruled by a caretaker prime minister who will be able to enforce day-to-day measures but will have little power to act on the country’s behalf in the international arena. Greek media reported that the heavy favorite is Supreme Court President Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou, 65, a bailout opponent who would become the first female prime minister in Greek history.