3:37am

Sat May 5, 2012
Europe

With Greek Elections, 'A Period Of Great Confusion'?

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 7:26 am

It's anyone's guess what the Greek government will look like on Monday, but analysts predict a fragile coalition that must still stick to austerity to keep getting international bailout loans.

The country's early parliamentary elections Sunday are set to be the most divisive in recent history. Voters who are tired of austerity measures are rejecting mainstream politics and turning instead to fringe parties.

The conservative New Democracy Party and the Socialist Party, PASOK, have dominated Greek politics for three decades. This election, enthusiasm is waning.

A Search For Stability

The northern port city of Thessaloniki has long been a stronghold for the New Democracy Party. Just a few years ago, tens of thousands of impassioned supporters used to pack New Democracy campaign rallies. This week, a much smaller and more subdued crowd waved blue-and-white Greek flags as music blasted from a makeshift stage.

A few people clapped and cheered when leader Antonis Samaras strode to the podium and said that he would bring growth and justice to Greece.

Transplant surgeon Dimitris Gakis says he'll vote for the party because Greece also needs stability.

"This election, in my opinion, is the most critical election since the end of the Second World War for Greece," he says, "and I'm afraid that if we [do] not have on Monday a capable government, we will be in trouble."

By "trouble," Gakis means economic chaos that could lead to a euro zone exit.

New Democracy has lost many voters to a new nationalist party called the Independent Greeks, which held a competing rally across town.

New Nationalists

About 1,000 supporters blew horns to welcome Independent Greeks party leader Panos Kammenos — a wealthy, Swiss-educated businessman who quit New Democracy because he opposed the international bailouts.

He gives fire-breathing speeches blaming Europeans and immigrants for the country's problems.

Vegetable seller Tassos Giannoulides says he hopes the party will stop austerity, which has forced Greeks to leave the country to work.

He says pretty soon, there won't be anybody left, and they need a revolution to stand on their own two feet.

Socrates Mavridis says Greece doesn't need the European Union to stand tall. The hotel clerk voted for PASOK in the past but now says mainstream politicians are hopelessly corrupt.

He says he may vote for the Independent Greeks — or Golden Dawn, a once-obscure fascist and anti-immigrant party that's expected to win seats on Sunday.

Golden Dawn promotes a neo-Nazi ideology and wants to "clean" Greece of foreigners, especially from South Asia and Africa.

Mavridis says Golden Dawn members are patriots who want to crack down on corruption and crime. He says Greeks believe mainstream politicians have ruined national pride.

"The average people, yeah, they feel like this," Mavridis says, "and it's not their fault because the average Greek didn't steal things or money [or make] some strange business. Especially the workers, the pensioners, the majority of the people."

No Easy Fixes

Back in the capital, Athens, Miltiades Varvitsiotis is running for re-election with New Democracy. He says it's hard to reach voters like Mavridis, who have given up on a system that has failed them.

"They believe that everything has to be dismantled. Therefore, they don't listen," Varvitsiotis says. "They are convinced that everything has to be destroyed and that the whole political system has to be down the drain, without second questions. So there isn't any window of communication with them."

Economist Manos Matsaganis says he expects many disaffected voters to support slash-and-burn populists as a way to punish mainstream parties.

Matsaganis is a parliamentary candidate with the Democratic Left, a new progressive party that's anti-austerity but pro-European. The Democratic Left and a more established leftist party, Syriza, have attracted many disaffected PASOK voters.

Matsaganis says many anti-bailout populists don't understand that it will take time and a concrete plan to get Greece out of its devastating recession.

"They seem to think that there are very easy solutions, quick fixes that don't exist," he says, "and I fear that we will enter a period of great confusion and even ungovernability ... that the country will be ungovernable."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Greeks vote tomorrow in early parliamentary elections that are set to be the most divisive in recent history. Voters tired of austerity measures seem to be rejecting mainstream politics and turning fringe parties. It's anyone's guess what the Greek government will look like on Monday, but analysts predict a fragile coalition that must still stick to austerity to keep getting international bailout loans.

Joanna Kakissis has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD AND MUSIC)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The northern port city of Thessaloniki has long been a stronghold for the conservative New Democracy Party. New Democracy Socialists Party, PASOK, has dominated Greek politics for the more than three decades.

Just a few years ago, tens of thousands of impassioned supporters used to pack New Democracy campaign rallies. This week, a much smaller and more subdued crowd waved blue and white Greek flags as music blasted from a makeshift stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING VOICES)

KAKISSIS: A few people clapped and cheered when leader Antonis Samaras strode to the podium and said that he would bring growth and justice to Greece.

Transplant surgeon Dimitris Gakis says he'll vote for the party because Greece also needs stability.

DIMITRIS GAKIS: This election in my opinion is the most critical election since the end of the Second World War for Greece. And I'm afraid that if we will not have on Monday a capable government we will be in trouble.

KAKISSIS: By trouble, Gakis means economic chaos that could lead to a eurozone exit.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS)

KAKISSIS: New Democracy has lost many voters to a new nationalist party called the Independent Greeks, who held a competing rally across town. About a thousand supporters blew horns to welcome party leader Panos Kammenos - a wealthy, Swiss-educated businessman who quit New Democracy because he opposed the international bailouts.

He gives fire-breathing speeches blaming Europeans and immigrants for the country's problems.

Vegetable seller Tassos Giannoulides says he hopes the party will stop austerity, which has forced Greeks to leave the country to work.

TASSO GIANNOULIDES: (Through Translator)

KAKISSIS: Pretty soon, there won't be anybody left here, he says. And they need a revolution to stand on their own two feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOICES)

KAKISSIS: Socrates Mavridis says Greece doesn't need the European Union to stand tall. The hotel clerk voted for PASOK in the past but now says mainstream politicians are hopelessly corrupt. He says he may vote for the Independent Greeks - or Golden Dawn, a once-obscure fascist and anti-immigrant party that's expected to win seats on Sunday. Mavridis says Golden Dawn members are patriots who want to crack down on corruption and crime. He says Greeks believe mainstream politicians have ruined national pride.

SOCRATES MAVRIDIS: The average people, yeah, they feel like this, and it's not their fault because the average Greek didn't steal things or money - didn't make some strange business.

KAKISSIS: Back in the capital, Athens, Miltiades Varvitsiotis is running for re-election with New Democracy. He says it's hard to reach voters like Mavridis, who have given up on a system that has failed them.

MILTIADES VARVITSIOTIS: They are convinced that everything has to be destroyed and that the whole political system has to be down the drain without second questions. So there isn't any window of communication with them.

KAKISSIS: Economist Manos Matsaganis says he expects many disaffected voters to support slash-and-burn populists as a way to punish mainstream parties.

Matsaganis is a parliamentary candidate with the Democratic Left, a new progressive party that's anti-austerity but pro-European. He says many anti-bailout populists don't understand that it will take time and a concrete plan to get Greece out of its devastating recession.

MANOS MATSAGANIS: They seem to think that there are very easy solutions, quick fixes that don't exist, and I fear that we will enter a period of great confusion and even that the country will be ungovernable.

KAKISSIS: For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.