Sun June 17, 2012
Eyes On Greece In Elections Redo
Originally published on Sun June 17, 2012 1:23 pm
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
The eyes of Europe and global financial markets are on Greece today, where voters go to the polls in a re-run of the May elections that created a political stalemate. The vote could affect whether the debt-burdened country stays in the eurozone, or if it becomes the first member state to leave it.
NPR's Sylvia Poggioli joins us on the line from Athens. Good morning, Sylvia. You have been out at polling stations today, what are Greek voters saying?
SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: Well, people don't like to say who they're voting for but you can easily guess from their remarks. Stathis Givaras, a public sector employee who has had his wages slashed by 47 percent voted for the leftist Syriza Party, because he said it's untainted by political office
STATHIS GIVARAS: The leader in government for the first time I vote him.
BYLINE: And a tour operator who identified himself only as Spiros had the opposite feeling.
SPIROS: No Syriza because I don't trust - simple. From the A to the O. In Greek, to omega - alpha to omega, everything.
BYLINE: And 35-year-old Theodore Pitsikas, who is unemployed, sounded desperate like so many Greeks
THEODORE PITSIKAS: I have three children and I don't have milk to feed them.
BYLINE: And he's voting for the left.
There are two main rivals, on the right, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who signed the EU bailout deal. And on the left, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras who wants to ditch the bailout deal and says the EU is bluffing when it threatens to hold that funding if Athens reneges on the bailout terms.
MARTIN: World markets though are really in a panic about the possibility that the leftist party, Syriza, will win. And international lenders would then cut off all funds to the country. Is this a concern for Greeks themselves?
BYLINE: Oh, many Greeks are scared of being left adrift and they're voting for New Democracy. The electorate though is split on this issue and it's not a left/right line, but a generational line and urban versus rural. At the closing New Democracy rally, the crowd was mainly elderly. Many were bussed in from outside of Athens. And at Syriza's closing rally, the crowd was urban and young. And nearly all Syriza voters say party has inspired hope.
In any case, the EU and the markets are going to have to come to terms with the fact that all sides in Greece say the bailout deal has not worked and is more damaging than helpful, and must be changed.
MARTIN: As we mentioned, the May vote created nothing more than a stalemate. How is this going to be different, Sylvia? Is there likely to be a clear winner here?
BYLINE: No. No party is likely to win an outright majority. There are going to be consultations for a coalition. In any case, all leaders insist there will be some kind of government. Now, most analysts agree that a Syriza-led coalition will not immediately and dramatically denounce the bailout deal. We'll probably see a round of intense talks with EU lenders.
But whatever the outcome, Syriza has already shaken up the political landscape. It soared in last month's election - placed second behind New Democracy - thanks to a wave of disgust with a political old guard rife with corruption and cronyism.
MARTIN: You say that people are fed up with the old guard, but is there a chance they could prevail? And if they do, what does that mean?
BYLINE: Well, even if New Democracy wins, its leader, Samaras, knows that the bailout deal can't be sustained. As it stands now, it calls on Greece to make further cuts to the tune of $15 billion in cuts in next two years. But the economy is already in shambles. It slumped another 6.5 percent in the first quarter. Wages have been cut up to 50 percent. Consumption has plummeted. Tens of thousands of businesses have closed. Unemployment has doubled in the last year. the health care system is crumbling.
There's really widespread despair and anger, and that's also helping the ultra right-wing party Golden Dawn to win votes.
MARTIN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, talking to us from Athens. Thanks, so much, Sylvia.
BYLINE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.