ATHENS – Weary of being told repeatedly they have to accept harsh austerity or Greece will collapse and be forced out of the Eurozone, more people are turning off Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras’ warnings disaster awaits unless they keep his shaky coalition government in power.
Facing a last critical vote on Dec. 29 to get his man – his party’s Vice-President Stavros Dimas – elected Greek President or go to early national elections with polls showing the anti-austerity major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leading, Samaras is pleading with rival lawmakers to support him.
The coalition government that includes the fast-fading PASOK Socialists has only 155 votes in the 300-member Parliament and needs 180 in the third round to get Dimas elected. He got 160 in a first round and 168 in a second when the threshold was 200 and Samaras hopes to sway enough more to put him over the top.
Many Greeks are so turned off to the political infighting and 4 1/2 years of brutal pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings they couldn’t care less if a new government leads them out of the Eurozone, although European Union leaders are worried a default by SYRIZA on 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) would bring down the financial bloc too.
“We’ve already been living through chaos for years now,” Kostas Grekas, a 23-year-old computer-technology student in Athens who graduates next year told the Bloomberg news agency. “I’d prefer there to be elections now so that Syriza gets in, just to break up the old party system and to see something different.”
Samaras is arguing he’s brought the country to the edge of a looming recovery by sticking with the austerity measures he once opposed but it’s falling on deaf ears even as his government is locked in tough negotiations with the Troika over unfinished reforms and how to close a three billion euro hole in the 2015 budget.
The Presidential election and stalled talks with the Troika forced him to abandon his plans to take an early exit from the memorandum he signed to go along with austerity, and as he feared more was coming and would topple his shaky administration.
“Samaras has cried wolf too many times,” Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Assistant Professor in the International Relations Department at Kadir Has University in Istanbul told Bloomberg. “Evoking the fear of euro exit may not work this time with lawmakers and voters.”
In a move to appease opponents, Samaras proposed a compromise in an unexpected national television address, offering to bring in rival politicians to his Cabinet and hold elections the end of next instead of 2016 when his term would run out. It was rejected immediately.
Christina Papagianni, a 55-year-old home-maker in Athens, told Bloomberg she welcomes the chance to change the government, though said she still expects politicians to reach an agreement.
“I don’t see how things can get any better from here,” she said. “It would be good for there to be elections and for them all to go, but they’ll find a way to avoid that. They buried Greece deep into the ground. I’d vote Syriza just to see what they can do, but they’re all the same.”