Greek flags waved during a pre-election rally in Athens
4:04am UK, Sunday May 06, 2012
Greeks are voting in their most critical election in decades with voters set to punish the two main parties that are being held responsible for the country’s economic woes.
Such is the disillusionment with the socialist Pasok party and conservative New Democracy – which have been alternating in power for the last 38 years – that neither is expected to garner enough votes to form a government.
Days of wrangling over forming a coalition will likely ensue, with the prospect – alarming to Greece’s lenders and much of the country’s population – of another round of elections, if they fail.
Sunday will decide whether we remain in Europe and the euro, and we stay on a course that is difficult but safe…
Public anger has been so high that politicians have been forced to maintain low-profile campaigns for fear of physical attacks in a country battered by business closures and hundreds of thousands of job losses.
The stakes could not be higher.
Greece is entirely dependent on billions of euros worth of international rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund.
The nation must impose yet more austerity measures next month, if it is to keep the money flowing and prevent a default and a potentially disastrous exit from the euro.
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras is expected to come in first, thereby benefiting from a bonus 50 seats in the 300-member parliament.
But, even with that, he would fall far short of the 151 seats needed to form a government.
Pasok, which stormed to victory in the last parliamentary election in 2009 with more than 43% and George Papandreou at its helm, has seen its support collapse over the past two years.
Now headed by former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, it is fighting off a challenge by anti-bailout left-wing parties, with opinion polls projecting Pasok to win between 14.5% and 19%.
Mr Venizelos warned that Greece faces default and mass poverty if voters back anti-bailout parties.
“Sunday will decide whether we remain in Europe and the euro, and we stay on a course that is difficult but safe, after having covered most of the distance, to finally emerge from the crisis and (austerity),” he said on Friday.
“Or it will (determine) whether we embark on an adventure, sliding back many decades and taking the country to default, to leave Greeks facing mass poverty.”
Repeated rounds of tax increases and reductions of salaries and pensions over the past two years have seen the country mired in a fifth year of recession and unemployment spiral to above 21%.