Greeks prepare for another trip to the polls | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.05.2012
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Europe

Greeks prepare for another trip to the polls

Greece is to have another election, following the failure of last-ditch attempts to form a coalition government. The Radical Left may be in a position to increase its share of the vote.

A senior judge took charge of an emergency government in Athens on Wednesday. With no political decision-making power, Panagiotis Pikrammenos will lead the country to new elections scheduled for June 17.

The next election will place different demands on the participants. The political parties must finally adopt clear positions on the issues at hand and come up with pragmatic solutions, according to the political scientist Manolis Kottakis in a recent television interview.

In the last election voters simply closed their eyes to the urgent need for debate over the issue. It is a debate, Kottakis said, can no longer be ignored.

Greek police detain an anti-austerity protester during an operation to remove a small group of European demonstrators from central Syntagma Square, Athens

Many people oppose the Greek government's austerity program

"Last time the main focus was on the question of whether the traditional parties would be punished for the current economic disaster. There was never really a factual debate about the actual problems in the country," he said.

Discussions to take on a sharper tone

Athens-based journalist Babis Papapanayotou said the focus of the next elections will no longer be on adopting attitudes of protest and rejection of political policy. In an interview with ALPHA television, Papapanayotou predicted that voters will be called upon to secure the future of their country in Europe.

"In the next election there will be a clear division between those on the side of Europe and the euro, and those who would rather go a different way," he said.

He said he expects a confrontation a between the traditional center-right parties and the leftists, adding that the this time around Left is led by the radical left-wing Syriza party, rather than the Socialists, which could lend a sharper tone to the debate.

Alexis Tsipras, arrives for a political party leaders meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens

Can Tsipras come up with a credible alternative to the current reforms?

In the last elections the Radical Left (Syriza), led by Alexis Tsipras, obtained 16.78 percent of the vote and 52 seats in parliament. Recent opinion polls suggest that Tsipras could come out on top in a repeat election, meaning he would be in a position to lay claim to the office of prime minister.

The Left promises ideal conditions

Tsipras' election manifesto promises the best of two worlds. He said he wants Greece to stay in the eurozone and also plans to cancel the austerity program and suspend repayment of its debts.

Election promises like these scored highly for Tsipras with angry voters and victims of the economic crisis as they felt that with the Left they were in good hands, according to economist Michalis Argyrou.

"The leftist party's economic program envisages new public sector jobs, nationalization, and all sorts of things - but no reforms," the economist said. "These politicians, of all people, who see themselves as young and dynamic, are unable to come up with any alternatives and are promising their followers ideal conditions that are simply impossible."

Public opinion polls indicate that 80 percent of Greeks want to keep the euro. Yet just as many believe that Greece's austerity program cannot be maintained in its current form because it is destroying the country at record speed. It's a fear that seems to be confirmed by the latest figures from Athens: in the first quarter of this year the Greek economy shrank yet again, this time by more than 6 percent.

Left-wing politicians are currently in the ascendant, but they are also increasingly being confronted with the question of where they intend to find the money to implement their good intentions. Their answers could not be more diverse. Where one wants to use bank deposits for economic growth, another suggests a mandatory loan from every citizen earning more than 20,000 euros a year. There is also talk of introducing a top income tax rate of 75 percent.

Samaras has alienated economic liberals

Greek New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras delivers a speech

Samaras of the New Democracy party has alienated potential supporters

Antonis Samaras, the leader of the conservative New Democracy party, has been especially active in trying to expose the left-wing politicians as frauds, and position himself as the guarantor of the future of the country within Europe. However, as the journalist Alexis Papachelas commented on Greek television, this is not an easy thing to do.

"The question is whether Mr. Samaras is able to unite the center-right camp under one roof, whether he is able to heighten his European profile, and whether he will give new faces a chance," he said.

Papachelas added that Samaras needed to present voters with a clear message, as this was the only way he would be able to win over the dwindling middle classes who see Greece's future as being within the eurozone.

Samaras is also a somewhat controversial figure among Greek conservatives, not least because in the last elections he led his party to the lowest result in its entire history. Economically liberal voters in particular were alienated by his rhetoric. These, and moderate conservatives, are the voters he now has to try and win back.

Author: Jannis Papadimitriou/cc
Editor: Sean Sinico

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