Greeks hopeful but cynical on threshold of election

25 January 2015

Greeks hopeful but cynical on threshold of election

Greeks who want to see an end to austerity were, as election day dawned, hopeful and cynical in equal measure. Left party Syriza are heading for victory, despite a tough campaign to make Greeks afraid of the change for which they stand.

Foto: SP / Alex Tsiripas

Alexis Tsipras In January 2014 was a guest at the SP-organised symposium ‘Economy, society and democracy’

The day after a Syriza election victory, Greece would be a disaster area: no petrol, the lights going out, and so on. We know of this kind of scaremongering in the Netherlands from the time of the referendum on the European Constitution. On the eve of the elections Syriza was the whipping boy for the other parties, but the party was calm in its reaction, and reacted as much as possible with humour, responding to the disastrous scenarios with an ad which showed a different view of the Monday following the election: the sun comes up peacefully enough at half-past-seven, and everyone goes on to have a fine day.

The anti-Syriza campaign hasn’t done any good. All of the polls point to victory for the left party, described stubbornly in the European media as ‘radical left’. After years of austerity, enforced by the ‘Troika’ of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, the Greek people are tired. Panagiotis Papanikolaou is a neurosurgeon in Athens, and he draws a shocking picture of the country’s heath service, a result of the policies of the last few years. A painful shortage of intensive care facilities, confirmed by official estimates that two thousand avoidable deaths are occurring every year; mass redundancies, hospital closures, and millions of Greeks who have to survive without any form of health care. In Papanikolaou’s opinion, Syriza’s reform plans don’t go anything like far enough, but the party’s promise to put an end to austerity is, for many Greeks, a last straw at which to clutch. The Greek people are prepared for a fight for survival. Many who originally voted for the right are ready to vote Syriza if it means that present policies will end. This also explains to some extent why the campaign of fear against Syriza has scarcely worked at all. For many Greeks, things simply can't get any worse.

In the metro the talk is of politics, with the prevailing mood one of cynicism. A young woman, who left for Sweden a few years ago because of mass unemployment, has returned temporarily and will vote Syriza. She believes, however, that the party will be a long way from being able to come good on its promises. She can’t believe that the EU - or rather, in keeping with the way people see things here, Germany – will agree to the annulment of debts, as Syriza wants. Still, in the view of many in the metro, it’s the only chance, because the parties in power for many years, who do everything Germany wants them to, simply can’t continue.

In the very last opinion polls Syriza was set for victory, the only question being by how much. Should they receive a sufficiently high percentage, they can gain an absolute majority, as in order to make possible a stable government, the biggest party is awarded fifty bonus seats – out of a total parliamentary membership of three hundred. The polls don’t give Syriza such an absolute majority, but the bookies reckon they will succeed in getting one even so, and these are the most reliable predictors according to local experts. However, nobody expects a coalition with another party to last. The communist KKE is there in a busy square in the centre with a permanent campaign stall. With an expected vote of 5-6%, the Communists could help Syriza to a majority, but they refuse absolutely to cooperate, seeing them as far too willing to go along with the EU. Only by leaving the EU and the eurozone can Greece progress, KKE activist argue. But Syriza, in common with the majority of Greeks, is for the EU and for the euro.

Syriza is going to win today’s election. On Monday the next struggle will begin, namely that of the Syriza government to fulfil its promises and end austerity. And quickly, if you please, because the Greeks are tired, depressed and cynical. Late this evening we will know whether Syriza has won the longed for absolute majority.

You are here