Main parties try to woo skittish voters ahead of Greek election

Fri, May 4, 2012, 01:00

THE LEADER of the party widely tipped to come first in Sunday’s general election in Greece last night reiterated his appeal to voters to give his party the power to “change everything”.

“Our plan to exit from the crisis is simple and consists of five words: recovery, social cohesion, development and security,” Antonis Samaras told his conservative New Democracy’s final election rally, in a speech that was pregnant with slogans but sketchy on detail. But, according to the results of the last available polls – opinion polls have been banned since April 20th – Mr Samaras will not receive the majority he so desperately seeks. They suggested that his only chance to taste power would be through a coalition with the centre-left party Pasok and, possibly, a third partner.

In his speech, Mr Samaras tried to stem the bleeding of support to the right, promising to step up the programme to expel undocumented migrants who, he said, had become the “tyrants of Greek society”.

About 3,000 supporters attended the rally, in stark contrast to the tens of thousands that came out to cheer New Democracy’s last prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, before the 2009 elections.

But the crowd was enthusiastic. “We need political stability in Greece: that’s why I’m voting New Democracy,” said student Pantelis Stergiannis.

The 2012 campaign has seen New Democracy and Pasok, its main opponent, struggle to mobilise their bases: both have had to find smaller locations to hold their final election rallies in Athens, which have traditionally attracted seas of people.

Angered by two years of tax hikes, rocketing unemployment and an economic recession, voters are expected to vent their frustration at the polls over the apparent failure of the country’s two bailout memorandums to fix the country’s problems.

The backlash may be so great and the outcome so inconclusive that some are now suggesting that a second election might follow in the summer.

“It is the most difficult election we’ve ever had to predict,” said veteran analyst Ilias Nikolakopoulos. “Days before the polls, voters are still undecided and their behaviour is unpredictable.”

Tonight, it will be Evangelos Venizelos’s turn to rally support for his party, Pasok, which is widely expected to receive a drubbing at the polls. He is likely to repeat his central message that his party, with its experience in crisis government, must be a part of any post-election government in order to guide the country through the remainder of the memorandum, which he has proposed can be extended, with the troika’s approval, from two to three years.

But the parties that may deliver the greatest surprises on election night will be the Radical Left Coalition (Syriza), which represents most of the non-Communist left, and the Independent Greeks, a New Democracy splinter.

Both are resolutely opposed to the memorandum and are set to absorb the bulk of the disillusionment with the two big parties.

Syriza chief Alexis Tsipras, who at 37 is the youngest party leader in the running, has said he will try to form a left-led government after the election, an idea which the other left-wing parties have rejected, the Communists being the most vociferous in saying no.

Addressing a mass rally on Wednesday, the Communist Party leader, Aleka Papariga, said that a Syriza-led government would be “opportunistic” in that it “would only deal with the tip of and not the whole of the iceberg” – that is the capitalist system.