Debt-burdened Greeks go to the polls Sunday in the most crucial vote in decades. After two years of cutbacks and recession, voters are angry and frightened about the future.
But with no clear winner in sight, the country’s standing in the eurozone could be further undermined.
Polls suggest the Socialists and conservative New Democracy — which have alternated running the country for decades — will be punished. They are the only political parties endorsing austerity measures imposed by Greece’s international creditors in exchange for two big bailouts.
Pollster Costas Panagopoulos says tax hikes, rocketing unemployment, wage and pension cuts, and four years of recession are erasing the ideological fault line created by two dictatorships and a long civil war. The vote, he says, is an austerity referendum.
“For the first time in Greece, the line that divides the electorate is not traditional line left and right,” says Panagopoulos. “Now the division is the loan agreement — pro and against.”
The vote could mark the end of an entrenched political system as old party loyalties fade away.
Taxi driver Giorgios Koutsogilas had always voted Socialist. This time, he’s voting for the Independent Greeks created by right-wing politician Panos Kamenos.
“He is a true patriot,” says Koutsogilas. “He comes from a wealthy family, so that means he doesn’t need the money, we have to have people like him now in parliament.”
Kamenos, who broke with the New Democracy party, prides himself on having attracted many supporters for his new party in just a few weeks through Facebook. He rejects austerity imposed on Greece by a German-dominated EU.
“Now Germany (looks at Greece) not as partner but as occupied territory,” says Kamenos. “They want our freedom, and our sovereignty. We don’t (it) give them.”
Sovereignty and democracy are the key issues of all the many parties opposing the austerity program. The big surprise could come from Syriza, or the Coalition of the Radical Left, which is made up of a variety of groups including communists, social democrats and greens.
At Syriza’s closing rally, a huge crowd cheered the 37-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras, who proposes a government of all anti-austerity parties.
The young leftist said Sunday’s vote “will restore democracy and stop the country’s march toward destruction.”
Nikolas Legatos is voting for Syriza also to send a message to Europe.
“People in Greece want something else, (to) create another government, an alternate government to lead us and the other European people to another world,” Legatos says.
Despite the popularity of the anti-austerity fringe parties, analysts believe the socialists and New Democracy will win a slim majority and continue to govern in coalition.
But Sunday’s vote is likely to produce a crowded, fractious parliament, a weak government and possibly another round of elections in a few months.