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Tags: EU | vote | Greece | politics

Greeks to Vent Austerity Anger in EU Elections

Thursday, 15 May 2014 11:12 PM EDT

Anti-austerity parties are expected to be among the beneficiaries when angry Greeks head to the ballot box for European Parliament elections this month.

After years of swingeing austerity cuts that have pushed Greece's unemployment to a record high, cut the country's economic output by a quarter and pushed huge tracts of the population into poverty, many Greek voters are expected to vent their anger in the elections on May 25.

"Europe has no idea what is happening here, this disaster, with children dying of hunger and homeless people eating out of the garbage," said Dimitris, a 42-year-old taxi driver, who plans to vote for the anti-EU Communist party.

The economic crisis shattered the power of the two parties that have ruled Greece for the last 40 years: the Pasok socialists and the New Democracy conservatives, who make up the current, but weakened, ruling coalition.

Instead, voters have turned to more anti-austerity parties, including radical leftist Syriza, which has pledged to scrap many of the austerity reforms adopted in the last four years.

According to a poll by GPO for private channel Mega, nearly 40 percent of respondents said they plan to vote in the European elections in order to help topple the conservative-led coalition government.

"European elections mainly serve to send a national message, and Greeks are no exception," said political analyst Ilias Nikolakopoulos.

"Over 70 percent of Greeks wish to keep the euro. But defiance towards European institutions is close to 80 percent," he adds.

Polls have put Syriza just ahead of with New Democracy in the run up to the elections.

A Kappa Research poll in Sunday's To Vima weekly gave the radical leftists 23 percent of the vote, ahead of the conservatives' 21.7 percent.

New centrist party To Potami is next with 9.0 percent, followed by the Golden Dawn neo-Nazis with 7.6 percent, the KKE Communists with 6.4 percent and the socialists with 5.5 percent.



"It's Greece or Merkel," Syriza's 39-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras told supporters in a recent party rally, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who many see as the driving force behind Greece's austerity sacrifices.

Maria, a 31-year-old teacher, plans to vote for a Communist mayor and a Syriza regional governor in upcoming local elections on May 18-25.

But in Europe Union polls, she will cast her ballot for the xenophobic, ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn party, which is currently under judicial investigation for attacks on migrants, illegal arms possession and two murders.

"It's to show that Greece does not bow down," Maria says, adding: Golden Dawn "stands for tradition, for the country's history".

The upcoming European Parliament elections come as Greece's economy looks like it is finally turning a corner after years of contraction.

Athens expects the country to register weak growth in 2014 following six years of recession as painful fiscal reforms mandated by EU-IMF creditors finally seem to be paying off.

The so-called "troika" of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund first bailed out Greece in 2010 with a program worth 110 billion euros ($150 billion).

When that failed to stabilize the economy, they agreed a much tougher second rescue in 2012 worth 130 billion euros, plus a private-sector debt write-off of more than 100 billion euros.

Thousands took to the streets to protest further cuts last month, disrupting rail and ferry services and causing government offices to close, even as Greece's finance ministry said the country would return to the medium-term debt markets for the first time since 2010.

Greeks "feel that they have done their duty" and would like to see Europe "promoting growth and employment, and more solidarity when problems arrive," Panos Karvounis, the European Commission's representative in Greece, told AFP.

"Greeks have developed a love-hate relationship with Germany, something like the feelings felt towards one's boss," says Constantinos, a 35-year-old shipping company manager, who says he will vote conservative.

"The boss helps you survive, but still you detest them," he adds.

Turnout is expected to be high in the EU elections. In a Public Issue poll published last month in leftist Efimerida ton Syntakton daily, 55 percent of Greeks said they were interested in the European parliament ballot and 71 percent said they would cast a vote on May 25.

But these days, even pro-European Greeks feel let down by Brussels.

"I really believed in Europe," says Ulysses, a 39-year-old bank employee whose salary fell by 40 percent in the barrage of spending cuts that followed Greece's brush with bankruptcy in 2010.

"But when things turned bad, there was no solidarity, only criticism", he says.

© AFP 2023

Anti-austerity parties are expected to be among the beneficiaries when angry Greeks head to the ballot box for European Parliament elections this month.
EU, vote, Greece, politics
Thursday, 15 May 2014 11:12 PM
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