Whoever comes out on top in the Greek elections will have an overflowing in-tray as the country seeks to reconcile its domestic challenges with external pressures. Below are some of the key issues occupying the minds of voters:
A collapse in confidence in bankrupt Greece led to unemployment skyrocketing in record levels as foreign firms backed out and local businesses retrenched.
According to Eurostat, Greece has the worst unemployment rate in the European Union with more than a quarter of the workforce without a job. Nevertheless, the news is not all gloomy as the rate has dropped significantly from the previous year.
As far as youth unemployment is concerned, only Spain is in a worse situation, with half of young Greeks finding themselves without the means to earn a living.
The ongoing crisis seems to have played into the hands of domestic terrorism, apparently linked to members of “17th November”, which was dissolved in 2002. One of the key members of the organisation – Hristodoulos Xiros – fled in early 2014, to be arrested along with some of his associates in early 2015.
The ruling New Democracy party has repeatedly claimed that extreme elements within the left-wing opposition SYRIZA maintain relations with anarchist and terrorist groups. SYRIZA denies such allegations.
Meanwhile New Democracy’s anti-immigration rhetoric has led to accusations that it is courting supporters from Golden Dawn, a party that has never denied its racist opinions.
The economy is the main focus of the leading parties’ campaigns. SYRIZA blames the government for introducing painful economic measures while New Democracy characterises its actions as tough medicine needed to rescue the country.
SYRIZA has gained in popularity by threatening to renege on previous international agreements, although its exact position has shifted from complete rejection to renegotiation.
New Democracy’s response has been to warn of a potential impasse with EU lenders and a subsequent forced exit from the eurozone.
These fears do appear to be shared, to a greater or lesser degree, by other EU states. A SYRIZA victory would pose difficult questions about the future of the eurozone currency bloc.
Since Greece’s bailout, the country has been repairing its finances as it tries to rebuild markets’ trust in its economic stability and ability to repay its debt. But if SYRIZA were to reject the agreement establishing the basis for international financial support, it could drag the faltering eurozone economy back into a crisis.
And it will bring into question the sustainability of unpopular austerity programmes in other eurozone countries, such as France.
A further consequence could be a dramatic loss of confidence in Eurozone sovereign debt resulting in an increase in borrowing costs and potentially pressure for even deeper austerity.
To assuage such fears, in mid-December, SYRIZA leader Tsipras tried to soothe concerns about his party’s intention. He said he wants to find a “negotiated solution” with the IMF, EU and European Central Bank and insists he has “no intention to make unilateral moves, unless they force us to make unilateral moves”.