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Greek election: Too many choices, no real alternative

Polls have closed in Greece. For the third time in eight months, voters were called on to determine their country's future. This time, many seemed less than eager to do so, reports Milan Gagnon from Athens.

In July, when there were just two choices - whether or not to accept internationally imposed austerity - Greeks chose "no" to a tune of 61 percent. When polls opened on Sunday, voters had 19 parties and a number of independent candidates to say "no" to. The tough part, though, was trying to figure out a "yes."

In this year's previous two votes, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected austerity. On Sunday, many seemed to reject politics in general.

"If I was in my city I would vote, but I wouldn't know for whom because I'm disappointed in the system, in all the parties," said Nefertiti Koutsiouli, an Athens-based microbiologist who is registered in a town four hours to the north, in Larissa.

She didn't vote in January and was not pleased with the performance of the government that emerged. "The left here is not left," Koutsiouli said. "Right and left is all a mixture. If I see a good politician - right, left, whatever - I will vote for them, but I'm not very fond of parties because I don't believe in ideology. I believe in reality, and in this era the reality is the economy."

Displeasure and uncertainty seemed to be a nationwide trend. Even voters registered in the towns where they lived and more or less strongly ideologically identified seemed to have a tough time picking a side. Sometimes it was easier to go with the devil you knew.

"The people who voted Syriza last time, perhaps they are not happy now, but they'll give them a second chance," said Maria Klara, who has voted for the party's various incarnations for decades. "The thing is, who is going to be in government and do something better?" she asked. "Not the right - only the left."

Griechenland Athen Wahlen Wahllokal Alexis Tsipras

Tsipras was marginally ahead in the first exit polls

Lack of diversity?

Sunday's vote was called in August, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stepped down after a number of parliamentarians of nominally anti-austerity Syriza abandoned ship when he gave into creditors' demands following a referendum in July.

In the hours leading into the snap election, polls had a narrow plurality hedging between New Democracy, the party that got Greece into its financial mess, and Syriza, the party that ultimately gave in on getting it out.

But there were so many more. To New Democracy's right, there were the Independent Greeks, who had ruled with Syriza in the short-lived coalition that formed in January, but disbanded before the end of August, and Golden Dawn, which carries the stigma of an active and enthusiastic neo-Nazi following. Despite that, the party has a place in parliament and, even in left-wing Athens bastions like the Exarcheia neighborhood, voters, including at least one man who said it was the ideological purity that in part attracted him.

"We're not so much lovers of revolution and freedom as we would like to think," said Antonius Photiades, who voted Sunday for Golden Dawn and in July had also voted "no" in the referendum, believing that Greece should give up on the eurozone. "We could have displayed more dignity," he said of the country's negotiations with international creditors over the past several years. He also said he saw little ideological difference between the mainstream right and Syriza, which is generally described as being far-left.

Griechenland Athen Wahlen Wahllokal Anhänger Syriza

Syriza supporters waited for the results at campaign headquarters

To win back voters from Syriza and its many splinter groups, the center-left united solidly under the socialist PASOK party ahead of Sunday's vote, pitching a message that the mess was manageable and hoping to return the social democrats to power.

Voters abandoned PASOK in droves ahead of the January election, in which the party won just under 5 percent of seats. The purer left proved harder to unite ahead of Sunday's vote, with anti-austerity supporters abandoning Syriza for populist and communist-leaning factions that had decided the mess was unmanageable.

The coalition of the radical left that Syriza campaigned on has been irreparably splintered by the government's capitulation to its creditors. A low-energy rally for Tsipras on Friday night, featuring such mainstream European left leaders as Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain's Podemos, and German Left Party head Gregor Gysi, drew diehards but didn't do much to energize anyone. In the end, it seemed that some who voted for Syriza were doing so just as a further "no."

"Syriza is bad, too," said George Kollias, an electrical engineering student at Athens Polytechnic who voted for Tsipras and his group in January and against the austerity terms in July. However, he said, "the alternative is bad for me, because if I don't vote for Syriza, then New Democracy will name the prime minister - these are the people who destroyed the country for 40 years."

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