ATHENS – Greeks are readying to vote in critical Jan. 25 elections with polls showing the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) ready for an historic win over the ruling New Democracy Conservatives, unless Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ last-ditch pleas changes enough minds.
If SYRIZA wins – and can form a government as surveys show it need to find a coalition partner – it would be the first time in more than 40 years that Greece wasn’t ruled outright or in a tandem of New Democracy and its disappearing political rival, the PASOK Socialists, who seem doomed to finish near the bottom.
With the campaign in its final hours, both Samaras and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras essentially stuck to a plan of making pitches to the converted, speaking primarily to their own supports although the Premier said he hoped to woo voters among undecideds and from other political parties.
Samaras though seems set to pay the price for imposing harsh austerity measures on orders of the country’s international lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that put up 240 billion euros ($306 billion) in two bailouts.
SYRIZA rode the crest of its opposition to pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings – and promises to renegotiate the terms or walk away from a big chunk of the debt – to the top of surveys for months even though Samaras warned a Leftist administration would halt a looming recovery and bring economic catastrophe.
The campaign ends the night of Jan. 23 with Samaras set to address another rally of his New Democracy party and Tsipras to his on the island of Crete.
Samaras is imploring the country to stick with wage cuts and tax increases to appease creditors like Germany but voters have largely tuned out, weary of austerity and looking for someone to save them.
“Tsipras will change things for the better not only in Greece, but also in Europe,” Tassos Harbilas, a 48-year-old unemployed technician who backs SYRIZA, told the Bloomberg news agency. “The Europeans will listen to him.”
A loose alliance with Communist roots, and including Anarchists and a bevy of Far-Leftist comrades, SYRIZA is projected by polls to gain about 32 percent of the vote with about 27 percent for New Democracy, not enough for the likely victors to gain enough seats to control the 300-member Parliament without a partner, which could be hard to come by for Tsipras.
In a GPO survey for Mega TV published late Jan. 22, SYRIZA got 32.5 percent support versus 26.5 percent for New Democracy. To Potami, a new party that has said it would potentially form a government with SYRIZA, placed third with 5.8 percent. No margin of error was immediately available.
“Nobody doubts that SYRIZA will win,” Thomas Gerakis, head of Athens-based Marc Pollsters, told Bloomberg. “The question on the night of the elections is whether SYRIZA will be able to govern alone.”
PASOK, brought to political ruin by Evangelos Venizelos, who served as Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister under Samaras after backing austerity, has fallen to 4.4 percent, 10 times less than the 44 percent it got in 2009 under then-leader George Papandreou, who became Prime Minister but was hounded out of office in 2011 for setting the harsh terms in motion after asking for the first bailout.
Papandreou bolted from PASOK, the party his father, the late Premier Andreas Papandreou, founded 40 years ago to form his own, Kinima, after feuding with Venizelos but the new movement has been ignored by Greeks even as Papandreou said he’s like to join with SYRIZA but was rejected.
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