The campaign is over – could it be the end of the road for Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, and perhaps the mainstream parties that have dominated power in Greece for decades?
Two years since the country’s last elections, and more than four years since it was first bailed out by the EU-ECB-IMF troika of lenders, Greece goes to the polls on Sunday in a historic election that could usher in Europe’s first radical leftist government in the austerity-stricken country.
Four opinion polls on Thursday had the conservative New Democracy party trailing the leaders Syriza by a widening margin of between three and six percent ahead of Sunday’s election.
Syriza saw its popularity shoot up after austerity diminished Greek people’s income through heavy taxation and the slashing of wages and pensions in recent years.
Greece’s debt crisis is largely attributed to the management of the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK parties which have traditionally dominated the Greek politics for almost 40 years. Since the financial troubles of the country began, several small parties have come to the forefront and gained prominence in the country’s politics.
While a majority of Greeks have found Syriza’s rousing policies an attractive alternative, many voters say they are backing Syriza just to snub the establishment and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
Is Greece on the verge of some kind of “people’s revenge” after years of austerity, forced on Greeks by the terms of an international bailout?
“This is a crucial election, but I feel that the people will vote rather with anger than with logic. And this would be the result of the nearly five years of austerity they have lived through,” said political analyst Andreas Drymiotis.
But despite such predictions and the opinion polls, the conservatives are in bullish mood.
“We in New Democracy are confident that the Greeks will not let their efforts be wasted to the sudden economic death scenarios Syriza is working upon. The Greeks have already chosen stability within the EU and the eurozone and for that matter they have undergone many sacrifices. They won’t let those sacrifices perish,” said New Democracy MEP and campaign spokeswoman Maria Spyraki.
Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, has long argued he wants to renegotiate and write off part of the country’s massive debt, claiming the austerity programme imposed by the country’s lenders has made it impossible for Greece ever to repay it.
While Syriza is ahead in the polls, it is unclear whether the left-wing party will garner enough of the votes to secure an absolute majority of at least 151 deputies in the 300-strong chamber.
So would a Syriza victory endanger the Greek economy still further? The party’s chief economic planner says no.
“Europe has nothing to fear from the decision of the Greek people to choose Syriza as the next government of this country. Our programme is one of economic stability and justice. Syriza’s victory will herald the beginning for a democratic and social change in Greece,” argues Professor Yannis Milios.
A potential coalition partner is the newly founded party To Potami (“The River”). The latest polls show this pro-European party in third place – a likely kingmaker.
The biggest surprise of Sunday’s elections however, could be the resilience of the far-right party Golden Dawn. Despite its leadership being behind bars for nearly a year and a half, the party is vying for third place.
As in previous elections, the undecided vote, an estimated 10 percent, could have a significant impact on the electoral outcome either by strengthening Syriza’s grip on power or bolstering smaller parties.
Euronews correspondent in Athens, Stamatis Giannisis said:
“It is the undecided voters who hold the key to the riddle of this crucial election as it is their vote that will determine more than anything else what government Greece will have on Monday morning.”
Eleni Rizopoulou, euronews, Lyon:
“Stamatis, in less than 48 hours the polls will open. What can we expect during these last few hours?”
Stamatis Giannisis, Athens:
“We are now in the final strait and it seems everything will be determined by those undecided voters, most of whom will choose who to vote for only once they get into the ballot booth.
“Regarding the main two parties fighting for the lead, in New Democracy’s case they hope to be able at the last minute to convince several of the undecided voters and overturn the findings of opinion polls who’ve been putting Syriza first by some distance.
“On the other hand, Syriza are focusing their efforts on widening this margin to enable them to win an outright majority.”
“If Syriza fails to obtain that majority what alliances can we expect for a government to be formed?”
Stamatis Giannisis, Athens:
“The big question is who will eventually win third place – this battle is between the centre-left, ‘The River’ and the far right Golden Dawn. Of course there is no question of any neo-fascists taking part in a process to form a coalition government in case Syriza doesn’t achieve an overall majority. In such a case, however, much depends also on the scores the other remaining parties gain to enter the parliament – such as the socialists from PASOK, the right-wing party the Independent Greeks, or even the new ‘KIDISO’ party (the Movement of Democratic Socialists) of the former Prime Minister George Papandreou.”