Sunday, 25 January 2015

Greece set to reject austerity

Greece is about to vote in the next few hours

High-stakes election may put Greece on collision course with European Union

Opinion polls give leftwing anti-austerity Syriza party a clear lead, but the party may not win enough seats to govern alone

The Syriza party's poster reads 'the hope is coming' in an election campaign kiosk in Athens.
The Syriza party’s poster reads ‘the hope is coming’ in an election campaign kiosk in Athens. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis /AFP/Getty Images

25 January, 2015

After five punishing years of austerity and recession, Greeks have begun casting their votes in a high-stakes election that could set their battered country on a collision course with the European Union.

Final opinion polls on Friday showed Syriza, which has pledged to overturn austerity and renegotiate Greece’s debt mountain, with a lead of between four and seven percentage points over its main rival New Democracy, with one poll putting the radical leftist party 10 points clear.

But while it seems clear Alexis Tsipras’s barnstorming alliance of Maoists, Marxists, Trotskyists, Socialists, Eurocommunists and Greens will comfortably see off the conservatives of the prime minister, Antonio Samaras, they are far from certain to win the 151 seats they need to govern alone.

Polling stations opened for Greece’s 9.8 million voters at 7am local time (5am GMT) and are due to close at 7pm. Initial exit polls, considered a broadly reliable indication of the likely final result, are expected soon afterwards, with a more accurate estimate about two hours later.

As many as seven of the 22 parties standing are set to gain the 3% of the vote needed to enter parliament. But although the winner collects an additional 50-seat bonus, recent polling has suggested that may still not quite be enough to give Syriza an absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament.

Tsipras’s fierce anti-austerity, anti-bailout message has found an enthusiastic audience across a now visibly strung-out and worn-down country: since 2009, Greece’s GDP has plummeted by a quarter, its household income by more than a third, and joblessness has trebled, to 26%.

Swingeing spending cuts and soaring unemployment have seen around 3.1 million people, or 33% of the population, lose their social security and health insurance, leaving the country on the brink of humanitarian crisis. Some 32% of Greece’s population now lives below the poverty line, while 18% are unable to afford basic food needs.

Light has won over darkness. Victory and a majority are within our grasp,” 40-year-old Tsipras told cheering supporters at his final campaign rally in Crete on Friday, promising to restore the “dignity of the Greek people”.

But the prospect of a Syriza victory has spooked creditors who worry Athens will seek a write-off of at least part of its massive €320bn debt. Some analysts fear a tough Syriza approach to negotiations could push Greece out of the eurozone, although Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, insisted on Friday this was not what she wanted.
Tsipras’s line has softened markedly in recent weeks, but several EU capitals are still alarmed by promises to cancel the most draconian budget cuts imposed as part of the country’s €240bn bailout package: the Syriza manifesto pledges, among other things, to reverse the worst wage and pension cuts, restore health insurance and electricity to the needy, and abolish unpopular extra “emergency” taxes.

If the party does need a coalition partner, its choices are limited. The extreme-right, anti-immigrant, Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, several of whose 18 MPs are in jail awaiting trial for membership of a criminal organisation, may end up as Greece’s third largest party, but is not an option for them.

The Communist party has refused all cooperation with Syriza. Possible allies could include the new, centrist Potami (River) party, which wants root-and-branch reform of Greece’s dysfunctional state, or the populist Independent Greeks, who agree with Syriza that austerity has to end, but disagree on almost everything else.

'Every day a little worse': 

Greeks frustrated & 

desperate ahead of elections

Greece is facing a crucial choice on Sunday, with the general election deciding the path the country will follow in years to come. And with Greece still in the grip of tough austerity policies, many see the vote as their only hope. RT's Maria Finoshina reports from Athens.

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