Greece prepares for general election Sunday
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Enthusiasm for elections is waning in the birthplace of democracy. As Greeks head to the polls this weekend for their fifth general election in six years, there are clear signs of voter fatigue.
“It’s becoming a little annoying because there’s no point. It just doesn’t make sense to have more elections.” said Christine Zwicky, who runs a bookshop in central Athens. “We need stability at the moment and this election is not helping. So we’re not happy.”
Since the last election in January, which brought the radical, anti-austerity party Syriza to power, the Greek economy has contracted and many businesses — like Zwicky’s — are suffering.
“Yes, things are worse. I don’t know about the numbers yet. We haven’t looked at the numbers yet, but they’re definitely worse than a year ago,”she said.
When Syriza and its youthful leader Alexis Tsipras were swept into office , they promised to reject the budget cuts, tax hikes and reforms that the country’s creditors were demanding. But the standoff between the new government and the creditors spooked investors and depositors, who pulled their money out of Greece, pitching the country back into recession and raising the prospect of a Greek exit from the eurozone, or Grexit.
Eventually Tsipras caved in, accepting the creditors’ demands in return for a third bailout. As a result, he faced an angry backlash on the streets and in Parliament.
Twenty-five of his lawmakers broke away from Syriza forming their own left-wing, anti-austerity party called Popular Unity, and that split prompted Tsipras to call the election, creating another wave of uncertainty.
“Syriza has been a disaster. I think there isn’t a government in the history of the western world that in seven months has managed to do as much harm as Mr. Tsipras and his party has done to Greece,” said Adonis Georgiadis, a former government minister and member of the conservative New Democracy party. “Syriza’s been a monumental failure.”
None of the Syriza politicians we approached were available to talk to Marketplace. But some of their ex-supporters were.
Stefanos Tsimourlas-Kritikidis voted for Syriza in January, but on Sunday, he’s planning to vote for the new breakaway group Popular Unity. A 27-year-old university graduate who works as a bicycle courier, Tsimourlas-Kritikidis bemoans his country’s 54 percent rate of youth unemployment. He’s abandoned Syriza because he can’t face the prospect of more “job destroying” austerity.
“It is going to make life here even more difficult than it is now, which is very difficult. Especially for the youth here, the life is unliveable,” he said.
Nevertheless, more austerity is on its way. Syriza and the other main parties that are likely to form a coalition government after Sunday’s election are committed to cut spending, deregulate the labor market and reform pensions in return for financial aid. Athens University economist Panagiotis Alexakis described this as “our country’s last chance to stay within the eurozone.”
“I think there is no other way,” he said. “This is accepted by the great majority of the people now in Greece.”
Whatever the outcome of Sunday’s election, the Greeks seem likely to finally toe the line and accept the harsh medicine their creditors have prescribed; the debt crisis seems likely to subside.
But some foreign analysts remain skeptical. James Bevan of CCLA Investments in London cannot believe the end of this long-running saga is in sight.
“Frankly, I think that staying the course and paying the bills is going to be really demanding. And I have to say, the chances of Grexit have now risen rather than fallen,” he said.
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