Europe on standby as Greeks vote again on austerity


IT’S DECISION time again for Greeks tomorrow as they return to the ballot boxes for a second time in as many months, in a vote that,regardless of the outcome, will have repercussions far beyond its borders and offers no immediate solutions to the country’s many problems.

Abroad, the vote has been chiefly billed as a referendum on the country’s euro zone membership, but internally it has also taken on the character of a plebiscite on memorandum-fuelled austerity, which all parties insist must be lightened somewhat if the economy is to have any chance of returning to growth.

What the parties differ on is the extent of the necessary modifications to the memorandum (signed between Greece and the IMF) and how it can be achieved.

The contest is now a clear battle between Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy conservatives, who accept the general framework of the memorandum and want more emphasis on growth, and Alexis Tsipras’s leftist Syriza party, which rejects the bailout’s terms and wants a full renegotiation of the country’s debt commitments.

The campaign has seen Syriza attempt to clarify and even water down its proposals, as it seeks to transform itself from a party of protest to one of government.

The talk of tearing up the memorandum on the day of the election has been replaced by somewhat more moderate language about avoiding any unilateral action unless it is forced to protect the country’s interests.

But Mr Tsipras still insists that the implementation of the memorandum as it stands will spell certain bankruptcy.

Both leaders have won more adherents for their messages since May 6th each, perhaps ironically, profiting from the relentless scaremongering from home and abroad about an impending “Grexit”.

For example, yesterday’s unprecedented step taken by the Financial Times Deutschland to publish an editorial – in German and Greek – calling on Greeks to reject the “demagoguery” of Syriza and its leader and reluctantly advising them to vote for New Democracy is a double-edged sword politically and was widely criticised in Athens, even by Mr Samaras.

But the editorial’s acknowledgment of New Democracy as the lessor of two evils is a harbinger of the difficulty Mr Samaras would face in trying to convince his German conservative colleague Angela Merkel to ease her game of hardball against the idea of easing Greek austerity. He would, of course, find more support in Brussels and Paris.

The publication of polls was banned a fortnight before the election, but according to the results of one reliable, internal poll completed yesterday and seen by this newspaper, New Democracy has an average three-point lead over Syriza. If the polls holds true, Mr Samaras will bag the coveted 50-seat bonus in parliament but will still be far from an overall majority.

He will need one, if not two, partners to govern with him in a political culture where coalitions have been rare.

The tricky business of forming a coalition will get under way on Monday. Pasok is one obvious partner as very little distinguishes the socialist and conservative parties now.

But with Pasok polling around the two-digit threshold, it might not be enough to get New Democracy over the line.

Another problem is that Pasok’s leader, Evangelos Venizelos, has said he will only join a coalition that includes the party that comes second, meaning New Democracy and Syriza must be on board.

Campaigning is prohibited today and polls will open at 5am (Irish time) tomorrow, closing 12 hours later.

Exit poll data will be announced immediately and the first official projection of the results is expected here at about 7.30pm.