Greeks Head To Polls For Crucial Election

June 17th, 20123:42 pm @


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3:47pm UK, Sunday June 17, 2012

Robert Nisbet, Europe correspondent, in Athens

As voters across Greece go to the polls in an election with global consequences, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged them to elect a government that will not ignore its commitments.

Six weeks ago the three largest parties were unable to form a coalition, after the ruling Socialist party, Pasok, saw its support crumble.

Ms Merkel told a regional conference of her conservative party that Europeans have too often failed to live up to their promises in various policy areas.

Although she did not mention anyone specific, the anti-bailout coalition Syriza has promised to rip up the current agreement with the international creditors keeping Greece solvent.

In return for two bailouts totalling 240bn euros (£193bn), the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank demanded widespread job, pension and public sector wage cuts.

A Greek woman casts her vote in Athens

A Greek woman casts her vote at an Athens polling station

As people voted in the parliamentary election today, two hand grenades were thrown outside Greek TV station Skai but did not explode, police and Sky sources said.

The TV station is a pro-austerity station, Sky sources said. One of Skai’s journalists was attacked a couple of weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Syriza’s main economic advisor, George Stathakis, told Sky News his party was “avowedly” pro-Europe and wanted to keep the single currency, but the terms of the bailout were stifling growth.

However, the centre-right party New Democracy, which received the largest share of the vote in May’s election, claims a vote for Syriza would be a vote for a return to the drachma.

If Greece falls out of the single currency, it could trigger a run on the banks and an exodus of both capital and people.

The shock could then radiate around the eurozone, as many of the countries with high debt and low growth would find their borrowing costs rose still further.

As both governments and banks struggled to fund themselves, a new credit crunch could then start to clog up the financial pipelines, which could cause a global recession.

But for many Greeks, such dire predictions are not their pressing concern.

A statue of Greek philosopher Socrates

The Greeks have been urged to vote in hope, not anger

There is anger and anxiety here as austerity bites, and an atmosphere in which intolerance and extremism are mushrooming.

On Saturday, a large anti-fascism march was held in Perama, one of the poorest parts of Athens, to protest against a surge in support for the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party.

Golden Dawn secured 7% of the vote in May, which was a political expression of an ugly reality: a steep rise in attacks on immigrants.

Last week Egyptian-born fish seller Abu Habid Saad was asleep in his house when a gang of 20 rode up on motorbikes. He said one was wearing a Golden Dawn T-shirt.

They smashed the front door and he struggled to stop them clambering through the window by forcing the shutters closed.

A friend sleeping on the roof nearly lost his sight in the attack. He is still in hospital.

Eurozone Crisis

Mr Saad told Sky News: “I didn’t believe they would come here to this house. I’ve been here for 15 years and I haven’t had a problem with anyone. No-one has bothered us and we haven’t bothered them.

“If the gang had managed to get inside we would be in the cemetery now.”

Pollsters suggest the extreme left and right wings could receive large numbers of votes today, but New Democracy and Syriza are likely to be the front-runners once again.

Of the 300 seats in the single-tier parliament, 250 will be awarded according to the share of the vote.

The remaining 50 will be given to the party which receives the most support.

On Monday, it is likely either Mr Samaras or youthful Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras will be invited by President Karolos Papoulios to try to form a government.

Yiannos Papantoniou, who was the Greek finance minister when the euro was adopted, told Sky’s Murnaghan that the poll is purely about whether Greece will remain in the eurozone.

“It is referendum about staying in the euro. People know precisely what they are voting about today,” he said.

“The crucial question is which comes first – New Democracy, which is promising a pro-European line, or Syriza, which opts for confrontation with the eurozone.”

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Mr Papantoniou said either way, the relationship between Greece and Germany has become strained due to the tough austerity measures.

“There is substantial space for achieving a satisfactory new deal with Europe,” he said.

“The Germans and the Greeks now are sour – there is no question about this – because they are divided by problems of substance and style.

“Substance, because this successive austerity has effectively done great damage to the Greeks.

“And also the style of certain articles in German press or certain references by German politicians have thought to be very offensive to Greeks.

“However the leaderships of both countries have a difficult responsibilty – they should try to calm things.”

Whatever the result of the vote, the election will dominate a meeting of the G20 nations in Mexico, beginning on Monday.

Eurozone leaders including Ms Merkel and French president Francois Hollande are expected to delay their travel to the Pacific resort of Los Cabos in order to be in place to deal with the immediate aftermath of the results.

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