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Greeks Vote in  Parliamentary Election - 2004-03-07

Greek voters are casting their ballots in the country's parliamentary elections. Polling stations opened shortly after sunrise on a fine day across Greece, in what is expected to be a very tight election race.

The latest polls predict a slim victory for the country's conservative opposition party, New Democracy, which is trying to dislodge the ruling Socialists of PASOK and its grip on power going back more than two decades.

Except for a brief interruption in the early 1990s, PASOK has ruled Greece since 1981. But now, voter fatigue and suspicions of cronyism among the ruling elite have become major election issues.

The election will decide who gets to manage not just traditional political problems, like the nine-percent unemployment rate, but some new problems, such as the final preparations for this summer's Olympic Games.

Those preparations are well behind schedule. Both the socialist government and the conservative opposition are committed to turn around the delays in time for the opening ceremony.

Under Greek law, voters are required to cast their ballots in their home constituencies, so the election has taken on something of a festive air with hundreds of thousands of Greeks heading to their home towns to vote.

From the rustic whitewashed villas of Greece's many islands to the urban bustle of downturn Athens, more than 20,000 polling stations have been set up to accommodate the country's 10 million voters.

The leaders of both main parties were out early in the day to cast their votes, and both men said they are confident of victory. PASOK leader George Papandreou has indeed helped narrow the gap on the party's rivals since his recent rise to the head of the party. But with a lot of voting still to be done, it is Costas Karamanlis, leader of New Democracy, who holds a slight lead in the Greek opinion polls.