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June 14, 2012

Greece Ponders Second Election in 6 Weeks

by Dominic Laurie

Greeks vote for a government for the second time in six weeks on Sunday. The last election, in May, gave no conclusive outcome. And tempers are rising as politicians from right and left fight for votes.
 
The sound of arguing is not a school classroom. It is a TV political debate just days before Greece’s election. 
 
Such things are supposed to be passionate but good-mannered. But Greece is in its fifth year of recession and there is anger in the air.
 
Six or so of the politicians are sitting round a table. Water gets thrown in someone’s face. The moderator tries to keep calm. But after trading insults with others, the spokesman of the far-right Golden Dawn party lunges at two left-wing guests, then slaps one from the Communist Party on the cheek. An arrest warrant is then sent out for the Golden Dawn spokesman.
 
The tension between right and left has also expressed itself in the streets. The far right is gaining ground, something that worries some protesters. The two parties that traditionally ruled Greece for almost 40 years have lost millions of votes. Many Greeks blame them for the mess the country is in. 
 
But the far left is gaining even more. 
 
Alexis Tsipras heads the radical left Syriza party. In a matter of months, he has gone from relative obscurity to leading many of the recent polls. He says the terms of Greece’s bailout are too painful for his country.
 
He says that if Greece’s bailout terms are not renegotiated, now that they are on a "knife edge," then catastrophe will be unavoidable. He says the "fire" will become unquenchable and will not be limited to Greece and the southern European countries.
 
The worst case scenario Tsipras talks about involves a forced return to the drachma. Greece thought it had left that currency behind forever more than 10 years ago. Vassilis Kapsis sits at home with his wife Nella. He says a return to the drachma would be a disaster.
 
It would mean less money in my pocket, he says, but also a price increase for goods. He says for people like him, with children, it will be a very difficult thing.
 
Greek expert Dionyssis Dimitrakopoulos from Birkbeck College at the University of London, says that despite the rise of political extremes in Greece, one thing almost everyone can agree on is that they want to keep the euro.

“Absolutely, there is support for that view across all the main political parties. There are some fringe parties like [the] communists that explicitly say we want to withdraw from the euro. But this proposition has been comprehensively defeated both in May, and I think it will be defeated again on Sunday," he said. 
 
Dimitrakopoulos says another thing that unites the Greeks is that they do not want another election. Two in six weeks is enough. But opinion polls say there will be no clear winner. Another messy coalition appears to be the most likely option.