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Greece: conservatives win general elections

The conservative New Democracy party won Greece’s parliamentary elections June 17, edging out the radical leftist SYRIZA party by a slim margin. However, since Antonis Samaras’s party failed to win a parliamentary majority, the leader of New Democracy will have to form a coalition government. Much hard work is yet to come.

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Forced exile

34-year-old Elise, a French citizen, and her Greek husband Vassilis (not on the photo) have been forced into exile. Elise's employer owes her 15 000 euros in backpay, Vassilis hasn't seen a dime from his salary from January to April. "We would like to stay, but there is no hope of improvement in the next two years, we feel like we're being forced out of the country", says Elise, who has been living for the last 6 years in Athens and has worked in the tourist industry. Another worrisome problem faced by the Franco-Greek couple is the education of Orpheas, their 2-year-old son. Says Elise: "Public crèches fire staff, or strike, private ones are hugely expensive. There is even a lack of vaccines." In mid July, Elise will take Vassilis and Orpheas with her to France. Once settled, the couple want to open a restaurant or a grocery selling Greek products. Their way of keeping in touch with Greece, the country they quit against their will.

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No more funds for renewable energy

Yannis heads his own business, specialising in renewable energies. Focusing on energy production from biomass - agricultural and human waste - his company works closely with Greek municipalities. However in the current deep economic crisis and recession, the municipalities badly lack funds. "So the end-clients don't have the money for their projects either", says Yannis. Yannis says he thinks Greece will stay in the eurozone following the legislative elections on Sunday June 17. Although he is yet to decide for sure which party he will vote for, he knows he will chose a party which stands "against the austerity measures".

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Three decades of left-wing militancy

For more than 30 years, Nikos Christopoulos has been an active left-wing militant in Greek grass-roots politics and heads the "civil service" department of Synaspismos, the main party of Syriza. We met him in Panepistimio Square, just in front of the Kapodistrian Kaï University, where he is responsible for the electoral kiosk of the Coalition of Radical Left, Syriza. In next Sunday's poll, he wants Syriza to win a high stake, so that it can govern and follow through with the promises it has made. 

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"Civil unrest hasn't helped small businesses"

Leonidas - the name sends to the legendary Spartiate king - sells jewellery in a little shop close to Syntagma square. "Business is going worse that last year,” he says. “Civil unrest has been harmful." With no illusions whatsoever concerning politics, he thinks that "nothing will change, regardless of who wins the elections next Sunday."

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"This crisis is not Greek, it's European"

Kostis is in his second year of Applied Mathematical Studies at the Politechnical Institute in Athens. A member of Syriza since last year, he sees the aim of the poll on June 17 as "changing Greek politics, the current handling of the crisis in Greece, but also in Europe, because this crisis is not Greek, it's European." Not all of his friends join parties. Some of them express their political involvement by simply taking to the streets. Greece's young generation has so far paid the highest price in the crisis, with 48 percent of those under 24-year-old unemployed.

On Sunday, June 17 more than 700 foreign journalists in Greece, the eyes and ears of the anxious international community, observing closely Greeks casting their ballots. At the end of the day, the conservative right-wing New Democracy came first with around 30% of the vote, ahead of the radical left anti-bail out SYRIZA party's 27,8% .The socialist party PASOK- which, alternately with New Democracy, has run Greece for the past 40 years- came in third place with only 27,8%. The far-right Golden Dawn received nearly 7% of the vote reaffirming its position in Greek political landscape. Voter turnout was 62,5%.

The defeat of anti-austerity SYRIZA seems to reassure the international institutions, particularly the European Union. In a joint statement, Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso saluted “the courage and resilience of Greek citizens”, affirming that they were fully aware of the sacrifices demanded from Greeks. The Eurogroup also recognized that Greek citizens had already made great deal of effort, praising the austerity measures as the best solution to save the Greek economy. They also expect the Troika institutions to return to Athens as soon as the new government is in place to continue with adjustment programmes.

But things could still remain complicated. The winning party, New Democracy gets a bonus of 50 seats in the 300-member parliament, which leaves them with around 130 seats, not enough to have a majority in the Parliament. 71 seats for SYRIZA and 33 for PASOK, mean that the conservative party gets the first try at forming a coalition. The scenario is similar to the results of an earlier round of voting when coalition negotiations failed.


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