At the heart of this coming Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Greece lies the question: will the people vote to lash themselves to their country’s bailout plan or not?
Any disgust towards the pro-bailout parties is born of distrust. Both the big parties are widely seen as responsible for creating the crisis. These are the ruling socialist PASOK party and its emergency coalition partner the conservative New Democracy party.
Greeks feel their traditional leading politicians are bluffing when they say austerity is the only way out of the debt bind.
Yet, led by Evangelos Venizelos and Antonis Samaras, socialist and conservative, respectively, the main parties are seen as the only viable tandem to push through reforms demanded by foreign lenders in return for aid that is supposed to prevent Greece from going bankrupt.
They are predicted to be in for a shredding at the ballot box, and whatever state they are in after the elections, any eventual coalition negotiations are expected to be long.
Opinion polls show the political landscape could erupt in a spray of small parties. A record eight-to-ten of them could enter Parliament. Thirty-two parties have been registered for the elections.
Pollsters say mass defections from the ruling parties include the elderly, whose pensions have been slashed, and the young, with dark career prospects.
Many of the new parties attack the bailout package, but with Greece in its deepest recession since World War II, xenophobia is also a vote-getter.
Analysts say the ultra-nationalist radical anti-immigrant Golden Dawn is set to become the most extreme right-wing party to sit in parliament since Greece returned to democracy after the junta in 1974.
Golden Dawn’s candidates are not career politicians; they include farmers, shepherds, workers and retired army officers.
Europe and others are watching closely to see how Greece will go about paying creditors back.
The country’s political fragmentation is tightly bound to the rejection or acceptance of the austerity programme.
Ten euro zone governments have been swept from office since the start of 2009, after drastic reductions in public spending.