Pasok restates pro-EU stance as Greeks prepare for polls

Sat, May 5, 2012, 01:00

WARNING THAT the outcome of tomorrow’s general election could threaten Greece’s membership of the euro zone and set the country back decades, the leader of Greece’s socialist party reiterated that his party would seek to be part of a “progressive government of pro-European forces” after the vote.

“Greeks, everything is at stake on Sunday – the life, the safety and the prospects of every Greek family and of the country as a whole,” Evangelos Venizelos told his Pasok party’s closing election rally in central Athens.

“Sunday will decide whether we remain in Europe and the euro, whether, after covering most of the distance, we will continue on a course that is difficult but safe to the final exit from the crisis,” he told thousands of supporters, many waving the party’s flag of a white sunburst on a green background.

He said the alternative of default would “turn back the clock by decades, leaving Greeks faced with mass poverty”.

Mr Venizelos dismissed New Democracy’s pledge to slash taxes and increase pensions, promising instead to soften future fiscal cuts by spreading them over three years instead of the two set out in the bailout plan.

The plan allows for an extension if the country’s recession, already in its fifth consecutive year, proves deeper than expected.

According to the last available opinion polls – their publication opinion have been banned since April 20th – Pasok is facing a bruising in the elections, taking the brunt of citizens’ anger at two years of hard austerity.

Up to 10 parties are expected to be returned to parliament, most of them strongly opposed to the bailout programme.

Mr Venizelos, who served as finance minister for seven months and oversaw the negotiations for the country’s second bailout and its debt writedown, is conducting his first election campaign as leader. He took over at the helm of Pasok from George Papandreou in March and subsequently resigned from the cabinet.

In a clear reference to his own experience and a veiled criticism of his main opponent’s lack of it, Mr Venizelos said the new government would have to know how to “play the game on the pitch and not in the locker room”.

He promised that his party would play a role in any “progressive” government, but warned it would not be a simple crutch to help other parties to power.

A New Democracy-Pasok coalition would need 37-38 per cent of the vote to form a government.

However, some recent unpublished polls that cannot be confirmed have suggested that Pasok’s hold on the electorate may have slipped even further, possibly into the toxic single-digit zone. Others say it has held its ground, remaining at about16 per cent.

Like his conservative opponent, Mr Venizelos chose not to hold his rally at the traditional political venue of Pedion tou Areos, where both parties could muster kilometres of supporters in better days.

The Syntagma venue is much easier filled, masking the historic low attendance the rallies of the main parties have attracted across the country during the campaign.

Expectations the heavily policed rally could be the focus of anti-austerity protests failed to materialise, but there were some minor scuffles on the sidelines.

Mr Venizelos’s rally brought a formal end to the 3½-week snap election campaign. Campaigning is prohibited today and polls will open at 5am (Irish time) tomorrow, closing 12 hours later.

The votes should be counted by 9pm Irish time.