Monday, November 08, 2010

In Greek elections everyone's a winner

After weeks of campaigning, the first round of the Greek local elections is over and it seems the world's money markets are breathing a sigh of relief that the ruling PASOK government has decided not to hold early national elections. Normally, Wall Street, The City and the Frankfurt DAX pay little attention to the small time Hellenic politics but this time prime minister Giorgos Papandreou embarked on a game of high stakes poker and repeatedly declared that a crushing defeat for his party on Sunday would mean a new round of parliamentary elections, perhaps as soon as December. The election campaign quickly transformed from being a debate on mundane local issues such as how often garbage get collected and assumed the dimensions of a referendum on how the Greek government was dealing with its dire financial crisis.

The news, which was quickly labelled political blackmail by his political opponents sent the cost of Greek government borrowing on the world's financial markets through the roof with CDS's topping 900 points. A reaction that reinforced Papandreou's claim that if voters did not support PASOK candidates the alternative would be financial disaster and political chaos.

Whether the high stakes bluff really prevented an all out electoral rout for PASOK is debatable with polls showing that 2/3 of Greeks rejecting the PM's dilemma. However, the use of such dramatic tactics so early on in the current administration's term is indicative of the massive drop in support for the government and growing dissatifaction with the austerity measures which have hit middle and working classes especially hard. Evidence of the effects of the economic crisis can be seen everywhere from a thousands of closed businesses to the growing number of homeless begging in the streets.

Many families are struggling even to pay utility bills as witnessed by recent statistics published in the Greek press which show that 1 in 4 electricity bills have gone unpaid. In addition the country's largest telecom provider OTE reported that half a million bills are overdue.

The announcement of yesterday's results was greeted by all parties as a victory with Giorgos Papandreou announcing that it showed that the country was behind his government's attempts to save Greece from bankruptcy and so ruling out new elections. Antonis Samaras, the leader of the largest opposition party New Democracy hailed the vote as an endorsement of his party's anti – Memorandum stance. Aleka Papariga, leader of the Greek Communist Party noted that her party was the only won to increase its share of the vote .

Although the Left benefitted somewhat from the anti – PASOK protest vote it failed to make enough headway to upset the political status quo, similarly, the far Right LAOS party who at one point seemed poised to supplant the more mainstream New Democracy in opposition paid the price for its support of the government's measures.

However, the fact that so many Greeks choose not to vote has worried many political commentators. That voter turn out was at a historical low reflected the disgust and antipathy many feels for the political choices on offer. Amongst ordinary people there is a growing sense of dissafection with the two major political parties and families who have dominated Greek politics since the restoration of democracy in 1974.

In the capital, Athens turn out was especially low with nearly 60% choosing not to vote, a figure that is nearer 70% if spoilt and unmarked ballots are included. After a succession of governments on the right and the left promising and failing to reform Greece's underperforming state, fight corruption and bring development only party die hards remain convinced that those in power can bring about the much needed changes required if the country is to survive in 21st century.

Feeling betrayed and angry with the “politics as usual” attaitude of the larger parties some voters, especially in Athens have turned to more extreme alternatives. The neo – nazi Golden dawn party received over 5% of the vote in the capital as a whole though in some districts the figure was over 20% guaranteeing them a seat on the Athens municipal council

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