Greeks are voting Sunday in national elections that could determine not only the country’s fate in the euro zone, but the very existence of the continent-wide currency bloc itself.
The two parties expected to grab the most votes -- the conservative New Democracy and the far-left Syriza -- present a stark choice for a beleaguered Greek public: Either accept the onerous terms of the EU/IMF bailout and proceed with years of more austerity (ND), or tear up the bailout pacts, scale back austerity and renegotiate a new deal with the EU (Syriza).
But given the large number of parties running in this redo of the splintered May election, no single party is expected to gain anything remotely resembling a majority of the vote -- thereby, requiring the need for yet another coalition government. Still, with ND and Syriza holding diametrically opposing views on the economy, a coalition between these two top parties would be unlikely.
This is a choice between the euro and the drachma, ND’s leader, Antonis Samaras, told a crowd of supporters. We're going to get out of the crisis, not of the euro… Sunday's is not a usual election. Whatever is gambled on Sunday cannot be undone.
A few hours before the polls close at 7 p.m. local time (noon EDT), the Guardian reported on an unofficial exit poll taken by the once-dominant Pasok party.
It showed New Democracy party in the lead with 29 percent of the vote closely followed by Syriza party with 27 percent. Pasok is in third with 12 percent. The small European-oriented Democratic Left has around 6 percent. Support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which was catapulted into parliament for the first time since the collapse of military rule in 1974, was also at 6 percent. Figures for the old-line Communist KKE party and anti-austerity, conservative Independent Greeks were not available.
Officially, exit polls are allowed to be released when polls close at 7 p.m., but with many voters undecided in the final day, analysts have warned that it won't be before 9:30 (2:30 p.m. EDT) that a clear result comes through, the Guardian said.
The best that ND could hope for is a surprisingly strong electoral performance by the Socialist Pasok party (the only other Greek party that supports the bailout and austerity). In that event, ND and Pasok, bitter enemies for decades, could conceivably form a coalition of sorts to steer Greece out of its economic catastrophe through years of painful spending cuts and tax hikes.
Pasok, which finished a humiliating third in the first round of voting, is widely condemned across Greece as the party which brought the country to its knees in the first place; a strong showing by Pasok may be a fantasy at this point.
European leaders, particularly Germany, are watching the vote closely and have warned Greece that if it rejects the bailout, it will have to leave the euro zone. Greece’s departure from the union (and likely bankruptcy) would then push Europe into an unprecedented unknown abyss.
Germany has also insisted that the tough terms of the bailouts (including massive job cuts, wage freezes and social spending reductions) cannot be renegotiated.
Prior to the Greek vote, the hawkish chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, warned: It is extremely important that Greek elections lead to a result in which those who form the government say, 'Yes, we want to keep to our commitments.'
Similarly, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg and head of the group of euro zone finance ministers, bellowed: If the radical left [Syriza] wins -- which cannot be ruled out -- the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.”
Perhaps the most inflammatory comments came from an editorial in the German mass-market newspaper Bild, which lectured: “If you [Greeks] don’t want our billions, you are free to elect any left- or right-wing clowns that you want. For more than two years, though, your ATMs are only issuing euros because we put them there. If the parties that want to end austerity and reforms win the elections, they will be breaching all agreements and we will stop paying.”
Even Francois Hollande, the Socialist president of France, has ruled out more lenient terms for Greece, despite his general opposition to austerity.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper of Britain reported that droves of Greeks are continuing to withdraw their deposits from banks, over fears that, regardless of who wins the election, the country will be evicted from the euro zone. In the event, if Syriza (or a coalition including Syriza) wins Sunday’s election, Greece’s banking system will collapse anyway.
Thus, there is also a sense of lethargy on the streets of Athens, suggesting a numbing dread of the future.
An unidentified diplomat from a Northern European nation told the Telegraph: There's a feeling in the northern states of Europe that Greece is never going to reform or keep its promises, whoever wins on Sunday. There's a growing feeling that Greece is likely to be out of the euro eventually, whoever wins.