Greeks voice hope for unity in elections

2012-06-15 10:03

Athens - Angry, scared and confused, many Greeks are wearily readying for elections on Sunday with the hope that their bickering politicians will finally set their differences aside and fight to keep Greece in the euro.

Surrounded by political billboards while sitting in front of parliament in Athens with her daughter and grand-daughter, Irini Tsinoglou said any new government faces a daunting task in a country now in its fifth year of recession.

"I'm angry. All the life I've been planning from when I was young until now has been devastated. With the political situation as it is at the moment, there's no hope for the future," sighed the 60-year-old, a retired seamstress.

"I hope for a government that will deal with the problems of the people, which are plenty at the moment. Young people are unemployed. The health system isn't working. And we have taxes which we cannot pay if we don't have jobs," she said.

She said politicians should come together, regardless of their parties.

"Greece does not have a problem with right, left or centre. It has a problem with living together and moving forward," she said.

Despised bailout

Tsinoglou's daughter, Eliana, aged 35, said she was concerned for her child's future.

"I'm confused but one thing is for certain - I am not going to vote for the two main parties that have ruled the country until now. Absolutely no way," she said, referring to the Socialist Pasok party and the conservative New Democracy.

"Perhaps I will vote for a party that is against the memorandum" - like the radical leftist Syriza which is enjoying a boom in popularity and is currently running neck-and-neck with New Democracy for first place.

"Maybe we should not have the memorandum and things will be a lot better."

The "memorandum" is how Greeks refer to a widely despised bailout deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that has given Greece a credit lifeline in exchange for a harsh austerity programme.

Michalis Paterakis, a 37-year-old psychologist walking to work, said people of his generation had made "a big mistake" by staying in Greece.

Looming ‘catastrophe’

"If things get even worse I will regret not having left 10 or 15 years ago for America, England or Australia - or generally some place where things are balanced. Here there is no balance and I don't believe there will be," he said.

"I hope there's a government on the 18th of June. If there isn't one, the fear is very big," said Paterakis, adding that he would vote for Manos, a small liberal party almost certain not to enter parliament.

"If something isn't done immediately, we'll have a catastrophe," he said.

Paterakis spoke on the central Syntagma square that has seen countless demonstrations over the past three years, near a tree where a pensioner shot himself in April saying austerity had reduced him to poverty.

At a stand in a shady spot on the sun-kissed square, Michalis Vlavianos was topping up his €630 a month pension selling lottery tickets.

"It would be good if the parties could co-operate. For everyone to be together. An all-inclusive coalition, that's when Greece will do well," he said.

Hope for unity

Even if the election is inconclusive, like the one last month, the 77-year-old said political leaders will be forced to find some way to work together as the prospect of yet another election would trigger a revolt in the streets.

"I don't see us going to elections again because people will start throwing stones... People are suffering and we have money for elections?"

A greater sense of unity was also the hope of 18-year-old Ioulia Imeri, who is finishing school this year and plans to enter a naval academy, although she said the most likely outcome would be another round of elections.

"Things are going from bad to worse and many of my friends are saying we'll go abroad but things are bad out there too, like in Italy and Spain," she said.

On a recent flight back from the United States to Athens, Sotiris Pappas, a merchant navy captain, said he would not be voting for New Democracy, the party he's long supported.

"I will go for [Pasok leader Evangelos] Venizelos. He's the only one right now in the country who knows a little bit what he is talking about," Pappas said.