21st Feb 2019

In Greece, jaded citizens wonder what they're voting for

  • Greek parliament, with old bill, from July's referendum, saying No to austerity (Photo: EUobserver)

Greeks love elections. They love to remind the world and themselves that they are the heirs of an ancient ideal, they get pampered with clichés such as “the cradle of democracy”.

They love the election rituals: the bickering between candidates and voters alike, the confetti in the rallies, the revolutionary songs played ad nauseam in the left parties kiosks, the old-fashioned campaign trail with door-to-door handshakes, smiles and utopian promises.

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  • Tsipras and his rivals must face the reality of voter apathy (Photo:

Most of all, it’s the exercise of the right to vote: Greece used to boast one of the highest participation rates in the West.

But not this time.

This is an election nobody likes, not even those who are supposed to win it. And not the voters for sure who, if polls are to be believed, turnout will reach a record low.

There is one exception though: Greece’s creditors (politicians from the eurozone countries, technocrats from Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington), routinely allergic to the electoral process, this time approved Mr Tsipras’s gamble.

A tweet by Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief of staff argued that “swift elections in Greece can be a way to broaden support for ESM stability support program”, seeing the opportunity for a Syriza landslide that would assure the orderly implementation of the third bailout programme.

Nobody is expecting a landslide but the creditors bank on the ability of “leftist” (at least on paper) Tsipras to deliver. A report citing Brussels sources in Ta Nea, a top Athens daily, claims that the creditors would prefer a government built around a strong Syriza, as the best way to avoid social unrest.

Tough market love

Tsipras spent most of his political life lambasting the markets' “tyranny”. But in this race, the leader of Syriza “has won kudos from investors”. “Greece's markets learned to stop worrying and love Tsipras”, according to a Bloomberg report.

One then shouldn’t be surprised that his popularity is waning back home.

In vox-pop interviews and poll studies, an important number of voters, especially those who voted for Syriza in January 2015 and in favor of No in the July referendum, express their intention to abstain from Sunday’s ballot. This trend - and the fear thereof - has prompted two of the parties (leftist Syriza and centrist, liberal To Potami) to issue campaign spots or banners against abstention.

Alexis Tsipras tweeted street artwork depicting himself with a halo. The slogan reads: “There are no miracles if you abstain”.

Interestingly, the best explanation for this trend comes from Klaus Regling, managing director of ESM (European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone emergency fund).

In an interview with Slovenia’s Delo on 9 September, Regling, said: “There are elections in Greece in two weeks. But because there was a very large majority in the old parliament, more than 80%, in favour of the programme, and because [the programme] was basically supported by all the parties, for me it is not so important who is in the next government.”

This is the view also shared by most Greeks: the winner is not important.

On paper, spoiled Greeks can decide between 19 parties officially listed on the ballot. But it’s a pseudo-choice.

Out of the nine parties that have real hopes to enter the parliament, only 3 of them still denounce the bailout agreements: the hardline Communist Party; Popular Unity, a splinter group formed by Syriza rebels; and Golden Dawn, the neo-fascist party.

In the July referendum, more than 60% supported the No vote. In the upcoming parliament, according to polling company estimates, almost 90% of the seats will be occupied by parties embracing (happily or not) the bailout policies.

Voter apathy

Tired of voting for candidates who promised to reverse austerity policies but would change overnight once elected (first PASOK, then ND, now SYRIZA) voters opt for abstention.

What’s the point of voting if what you get is the opposite of what you voted for?” says 28-year-old Dimitra Karadimou, a nurse on an internship programme who is owed two months of backpay. “Do you call this a democracy?”

The trend is especially amplified among the voters of Syriza, like Dimitra, who voted No in the referenum. 38% of them intend not to vote on Sunday according to a poll by the University of Macedonia.

The most compelling moment of a so-far dull campaign was probably the most hilarious: during the TV debate between the two leaders, Meimarakis accused on air the public broadcaster hosting the debate of showing on screen the “shorter” Tsipras as being taller than “taller” Meimarakis: “I would kindly request from the cameraman to show us both as having the same height. It looks like Mr Tsipras got [some] extra height tonight."

Throughout the campaign, Tsipras has done his utmost to convince voters that he is so vastly different from Meimarakis that any idea of a coalition with New Democracy would be “unnatural”.

Meimarakis, for his part, is playing the opposite card. He is calling for a coalition regrouping all forces of the “democratic spectrum”, that are in favor of staying in the EZ. In the latest spot released by ND, the idea comes from football: “a national team of Greece”.

Tsipras denies the possibility to participate in a government with New Democracy but the mediocre score of Syriza in the polls will likely force him (in case of a Syriza win) to swallow the bitter pill of cooperation with other forces of “the old regime”, namely PASOK and To Potami.

For Golden Dawn, the bargaining game between parties that not long ago were supposedly sworn enemies only adds wind to its sails.

Furthermore, the refugee situation might create a more fertile ground for its anti-immigrant hate speech.

Historically, polling companies have failed to predict Golden Dawn’s percentage. For a party whose leadership is currently on trial for alleged felonies (including instigating murders), boosting its overall percentage is a noteworthy success.

If those polls are confirmed, Golden Dawn might come third. Given that the “official” main opposition party (be it Syriza or New Democracy) will also be supporting the implementation of the bailout policies carried out by the governing party, Golden Dawn would become de facto the biggest opposition party.

Greek election still too close to call

Left-wing Syriza and right-wing New Democracy remain neck-and-neck in opinion polls, while the number of undecided voters remains high.

'Vindicated' Tsipras wins Greek elections

Syriza emerged as the big winner in Sunday's elections, with 35.47 percent of the vote. It will re-enter the Greek parliament with 145 seats, only four less than its landslide victory earlier this year.

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

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