Saturday 18 November 2017

Bookies back Greek right in election but soccer or weather could sway vote

ECB President Mario Draghi
ECB President Mario Draghi

Eva Kuehnen and Sven Egenter

BOOKMAKERS see Greece's conservative New Democracy winning Sunday's election but political parties say the race is so close that even an international soccer match or the weather may help usher the radical left into power.

Greeks angry after two years of austerity and decades of corruption punished mainstream politicians in an inconclusive election on May 6 that catapulted the SYRIZA party to a surprise second place, turning the fringe leftists into serious contenders in Sunday's repeat vote.

The most recent opinion polls, published before a ban came into effect two weeks before the election, showed New Democracyabout neck and neck with SYRIZA ahead of an election that may decide whether the debt-ridden country remains in the euro.

Five pollsters favoured New Democracy, which backs a 130 billion euro ($160 billion) bailout keeping Greece afloat, while two fancied the upstart SYRIZA, which wants to scrap the bailout, end privatisations and nationalise banks.

Just days before the vote, London-based Betfair put New Democracy on 1:3 and Ladbrokes quoted 4:11, while SYRIZA was on 11:4 and 15:8 respectively, suggesting a conservative victory was more likely. Dublin-based Paddy Power gave New Democracy 2:7 and SYRIZA 9:4.

During the ban on publishing polls, leaks of "secret" and often contradictory polls are making the rounds of Athens blogs and coffee shops. One such poll showing New Democracy in the lead even pushed the Athens Stock Exchange 10 percent up on Thursday, its biggest daily gain since last August.

Pollsters say the odds have not changed much since the last polls were published and at the headquarters of political parties, officials say the race is too close to call.

New Democracy has told voters they must decide whether or not they wish to remain in the euro, saying a SYRIZA victory would mean lenders will turn off the funding taps and Greecewould be forced to leave the common currency.

SYRIZA says the bailout did nothing but plunge Greece into its worse recession in years, with poor people suffering the most from austerity measures attached to its funding, while the rich who plundered Greek wealth for decades enjoy impunity.

No party is expected to win an outright majority, and negotiations will follow to form a pro-bailout or an anti-bailout coalition government.

SOCCER AND THE WEATHER

An unusually large numbers of voters are still wavering, pollsters say. With the traditional Greek left-right political divide sidelined by the debt crisis, other factors could sway voters.

"Nothing is certain, many voters are still undecided and factors such as the soccer match may be a major factor," said a candidate for New Democracy.

Greece play Russia late on Saturday in the European Soccer Championships in Poland. If Greece win, they will progress beyond the group stage and could face Germany on June 22.

"Our analysts say a victory may fan nationalist feelings but they are not sure which party would benefit from that," the candidate said.

A second big factor is the weather, he said. Unusually high temperatures may send younger voters to the beach rather than the polling stations.

"New Democracy's demographics are older and SYRIZA attracts younger groups. If the young opt not to vote it will be a boost for the conservatives," a New Democracy party official said.

Pollsters say another oddity that makes the vote unpredictable is the personal popularity of SYRIZA's youthful leader Alexis Tsipras, 37, over New Democracy's chief, Antonis Samaras, 61.

"We've had polls favouring New Democracy as the election winner and Tsipras as prime minister," said one Athens pollster. "It's odd things like that make this election hard to call."

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