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Europe

'Totalitarian ideologies on the rise among young Greek voters'

In the elections on May 6, the main political parties in Greece are expecting major losses. The protest parties who are against austerity cuts may well profit from that.

Manolis Mavrommatis is a textbook election candidate: in the 1980s he was already a well-known face on Greek televion as a sports reporter. His rapid delivery on live broadcasts endeared him among football fans and earned him the nickname "Manolo." Later Mavrommatis gained political experience as a member of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Now, Mavrommatis is running as a candidate for New Democracy (ND), Greece's major conservative party, in the Athens City district. That area is usually a stronghold for the center-right party. In the last elections in 2009, their election to parliament was a foregone conclusion, but this time round polls show support for the conservatives under leader Antonis Samaras is at a historic low.

Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos

Evangelos Venizelos on the campaign trail

The leader of the Socialist party, Evangelos Venizelos, has similar concerns. The two main parties will be happy if they scrape together 40 percent of the vote. But Mavrommatis refuses to believe the polls.

"Just 40 percent for both main parties? - I don't believe that for a second. That would be a catastrophe; Greece would be completely ungovernable at the most difficult time in its history," he warns. He says that the polls are just a snapshot of the moment and they don't take into account the party base. He can well imagine that the conservatives, despite the predictions, will come in with 30 percent of the vote.

Protest vote?

That wouldn't be impossible. Pollsters point to the fact that predictions are particularly hard to make in these elections, because over 30 percent of those asked refused to say whom they will vote for. Either way, the two main parties are facing a clear dilemma: either the Greeks decide for the pro-European powers and carry through the round of austerity measures, or they gamble on the future of their country by giving their vote to one of the protest parties.

"What the protest politicians are up to isn't serious," says Mavrommatis. Some of them say they will refuse to pay back the debt, others want to leave the EU straight away, still others are for the euro, but against the austerity measures. Mavrommatis believes that won't take the country any further. "You can't expect to receive a 130-billion-euro bailout without giving something back," he says.

Election posters

The left party is hoping to pick up votes

There are 11 parties with hopes of gaining a seat in parliament. Commentators are therefore warning that the resulting government may be unstable, because the parliament is likely to include representatives from the extreme left and extreme right. Those parties will no doubt profit from the widespread anger over the cuts and record levels of unemployment.

In addition the question of responsibility for the country's dismal economic situation has been stubbornly ignored, according to political analyst Jannis Anastassakos. He claims the election presents an opportunity to move away from the established parties, which have been ruling Greece for the last 40 years.

Rise of the extreme right

"In the last 40 years the country has degenerated into a party democracy in which all institutions and authorities have been swallowed up by the political parties," Anastassakos complains. From this foundation, he says, an overflowing consumer economy has emerged, which has only been further fueled by the adoption of the euro and cheap loans. Now is the time for revenge, he says: Politicians should fear the scorn and despair of their own constituents, because the system no longer functions as a result of the crisis.

Anastassakos studied in France in the 1980s and back then began engaging with the socialist party. He finds it sad that the right-wing extremist group Chyssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) is on the rise in Greece. According to survey, the extremists could get up to six percent of the vote and for the first time gain seats in parliament. "They came in order to stay," says the Athens-based political expert.

Main parties fight for votes

Election posters

The main parties are worried

"I'm almost ashamed to say it," says Anastassakos. "The radical left and the far right have a special appeal among voters under the age of 25. It seems as if the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century are having a renaissance among younger voters." He adds that an important reason for the rise of the right is the ineptitude of the main parties to get the issues of illegal immigration under control.

Shortly ahead of the elections, both the main parties are on the offensive, making bold promises about the budget in order to win back voters. The head of the conservative party, Antonis Samaras, envisions tax breaks and a renegotiation of debt. Meanwhile, the socialist leader, Evangelos Venizelos has promised no new taxes beyond June. Only the interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has detracted from all the rhetoric. In a letter to the parties he has reminded them of the austerity measures which must be carried out immediately after the elections, including wage cuts, tax rises and job losses in the public sector.

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou, Athens / ji
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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