Article @ Morning Star, published 25 January 2015
Written in Athens, with Ben Chacko in Britain
Greeks flocked to the polls yesterday in an election widely seen as a referendum on EU-mandated austerity.
Exit polls showed a clear win for left populist party Syriza, though it appeared touch and go as to whether its 35-39 per cent would be enough to clear the 151 seats required for a majority, with state TV channel Nerit translating the percentage to 146-158 seats.
Greece’s economy has shrunk by a quarter since the eurozone crisis began. Unemployment is at 25 per cent, with youth unemployment around 60 per cent.
Life proceeded as normal across the capital, with cafes and tavernas full of people enjoying the sunny Sunday in the capital’s old neighbourhood of Plaka.
But at the local primary school a feverish energy mounted as people came and went non-stop throughout the day to cast their vote.
“We hope that much will change,” said 42-year-old Anna as her friend Despina nodded along.
“I hope for a change all over Europe, I hope this is the beginning of something good.”
A middle aged woman helped her elderly mother out of a car and onto the school grounds.
Christos took his younger wife Elena to vote despite her apathy.
“If something changes I feel positive,” he said.
He added that people were “fed up” and Greece could do better outside the European Union — front-runner Syriza has insisted it will stay in the EU and eurozone despite it ordering heinous attacks on living standards and workers’ rights.
“Today, the Greek people are called to decisively make the remaining step toward the return of hope, the end of fear, the return of democracy and dignity in our country,” Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said outside a polling station.
His party would negotiate a “tough bargain to rejoin Europe on an equal basis,” he declared, although Germany has repeatedly warned it will not tolerate any rejection of austerity.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) general secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas warned as he cast his vote that the mass struggle against the “troika” — IMF, EU and European Central Bank — which has imposed massive spending cuts and privatisation on the country would not be over after the election.
“Go to vote with hand on heart and with an eye to the next day, which will be difficult for our people,” he said.
A vote for the KKE, which calls for unilateral cancellation of the debt, socialisation of capitalist monopolies and withdrawal from the EU and Nato, would “strengthen the only real power to defend the people’s interests,” he said, saying that attacks on workers’ rights would continue whether Syriza or New Democracy leads the new government.
Both front-runners are desperate to secure the release of a €7.2 billion (£5.4bn) loan instalment due last year.
Exit polls suggested that New Democracy would scoop 23-27 per cent, or 65-75 seats.
New centrist party Potami was vying for third place with the neonazi Golden Dawn, both forecast as being between 6 and 8 per cent.
The loan was delayed because the New Democracy-led government’s cuts to pensions were not harsh enough for troika inspectors.