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Alexis Tsipras’s Victory Means He Must Now Implement Austerity Greece Had Long Rejected

Alexis Tsipras must now implement the austerity he had long resisted.

ATHENS, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 20:   The leader of Greece's left-wing Syriza party Alexis Tsipras casts his ballot at a polling station on September 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The latest polls have the incumbent Syriza party with a slight lead over the New Democracy. A new bailout of $96 million was approved for Greece in August.  (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE - SEPTEMBER 20: The leader of Greece's left-wing Syriza party Alexis Tsipras casts his ballot at a polling station on September 20, 2015 in Athens, Greece. The latest polls have the incumbent Syriza party with a slight lead over the New Democracy. A new bailout of $96 million was approved for Greece in August. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

Last January, Greek voters selected left-wing Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to fight back against austerity demanded by Europe. On Sunday, in the fifth Greek election in six years, they elected him to do the opposite.

With Greek conservatives conceding defeat, Tsipras, who resigned in August after the Greek parliament voted to accept harsh austerity demands in exchange for a third, 86 billion euro bailout, is now back in power. He must form a government capable of instituting tax increases, spending cuts, and pension reforms ahead of an International Monetary Fund review set for next month.

The IMF said it would not participate in the bailout unless Greece, plagued by years of anemic economic growth and unemployment above 25 percent, delivers the reforms it has promised. IMF chief Christine Lagarde wants some of Greece’s debt to be forgiven, something Germany says is illegal. Lawmakers in Berlin have warned they might not participate in future bailouts without the IMF on board.

The European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the European Stability Mechanism, the fund created to keep faltering European nations afloat, are Greece’s creditors.

It’s not immediately clear whether Tsipras has won enough votes for Syriza to govern on its own. If not, he’ll have to form a coalition with another party, as he did when he was in office from January to August of this year.

“A battle is finished, one that we gave with seriousness and dignity,” Evangelos Meimarakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party that was challenging Tsipras, said as he conceded.

Getting a working government in place is key to Athens continuing to get the cash it needs to keep Greek banks open and keep current on its loan payments. In the past, Greece has struggled to make good on its commitments — Tsipras was elevated to office in January promising to reject the terms of two previous bailouts — which led to this summer’s standoff with its European creditors, led by Germany, the largest contributor to the rescue packages.

The president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, was quick to remind Tsipras that he must follow through on his austerity pledges.

Sunday’s vote likely caps a tumultuous summer that almost saw Greece kicked out of the eurozone. In June, Athens said it would miss a payment to the IMF. Its banks and stock market closed, and cash withdrawals were limited to as little as 60 euros per day.

Then, Tsipras called a July referendum and urged Greeks to reject Europe’s austerity demands. They did, but that only hardened European resolve, especially in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to blink. In August, on the edge of financial ruin, Tsipras accepted austerity harsher than what he was asked to implement a month before.

His tone after Sunday’s election was far from celebratory. On Sunday evening in Athens, he tweeted out this photo with a message, written in Greek: “The road is open before us for work and struggle.”

Photo credit: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

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