Wednesday 25 April 2018

Weary Greeks vote Tsipras back in to head new coalition

Former Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras holds his ballot as he exits a voting booth in Athens
Former Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras holds his ballot as he exits a voting booth in Athens
Syriza supporters await the first exit polls in Athens after voting booths closed yesterday evening

Shona Murray

Jubilant supporters of Alexis Tsipras's left-wing Syriza party celebrated last night after the party comfortably won Greece's third national vote this year despite a rebellion within his party over a painful third international bailout.

With 44pc of the vote counted, Syriza stood at 35.5pc, with the conservative New Democracy at 28pc while the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn was coming in third with 7.1pc, followed closely by the once-mighty socialist Pasok party with 6.3pc.

Abstention was high, at nearly 45pc, in an election-weary country with a traditionally high voter turnout.

Although Syriza was projected as falling short of an absolute majority in the 300-member parliament, Mr Tsipras was expected to form a coalition government with relative ease.

His former coalition partner, the small nationalist Independent Greeks, was set to win just above the 3pc threshold to enter parliament, while centrist parties have indicated they would agree to a coalition to ensure repeat elections are not necessary.

Voter apathy characterised polling day all across Athens. Many voters were still in shock at what became of their resounding 'No' to another bailout from Greece's creditors.

Now they're stuck with this raw deal and voters feel Mr Tsipras is as bad or as good as any of the rest of them to grudgingly deliver.

Politicians braced themselves for the inevitable difficult coalition talks which would result in the implementation of the impossibly difficult Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreed by Mr Tsipras in Brussels in July.

"It's a negative vote; life is a little bit sad here - I'm joking, but not totally joking", said 48-year-old Vassilis, who didn't want to give his second name, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Koukaki.

"There is no politics, no ideology, here or in Europe any more. It's just about the economy and money."

Others passed by polling booths in complete indifference. "I won't vote; it will get us nowhere. Nobody wants to help the Greeks - even the Greeks themselves. We're the black sheep", says 48-year-old Kostas, a taxi driver in Athens. "I voted for Tsipras, but he lied to us; he sold us all of these dreams he knew he wouldn't deliver."

Rewind a couple of months ago to when Greeks were asked if they wanted to continue down the austerity road with a third bailout, and the atmosphere was one of defiance and righteousness, albeit misguided.

Go back even further to the election of Mr Tsipras as the great white hope in January this year. For the days and weeks ahead of these two occasions, Syntagma Square in Athens was the vibrant pulse of the country; many evenings tens of thousands of Greeks showed up to demand control of their future. Not this time.

Polling centres - mainly primary schools - saw just a trickle of people around lunchtime, and the numbers barely picked up throughout the day. Compared to the fanfare of January, Mr Tsipras was sheepishly asking for a new mandate.

He is now set to get one because the dream of shaking off the shackles of austerity with an alternative anti-austerity party, like Popular Unity - the Syriza splinter group, is all but dead. In fact, Zoe Konstantopoulou, the once-rambunctious president of the parliament and now former comrade of Tsipras, is likely to lose her seat. The party won't reach the 3pc threshold required.

"I'm optimistic that tomorrow a new day will dawn, and Greece's difficulties can be overcome", insisted an outwardly confident Tsipras as he cast his ballot in his working-class hometown of Kypseli.

"I'm ready to give Alexis another opportunity; he had no choice. I believe him", said 48-year-old Zafi Atheneu, who along with her 77-year-old mother cast their votes for the return of Mr Tsipras.

Two months of capital controls, forced austerity and belligerent, fatalistic language of a 'coup' by Europe has perhaps left voters disenchanted by the whole process of democracy, as well as the future of the wider EU.

"We are worried about the EU, and whether democracy or the people will be a part of our future. I believe in the EU, but it is falling apart; we can't defend our borders; or our principles," said 67-year-old Paulina, who stuck with the party she has always voted for: PASOK - the party of former prime minister George Papandreou.

"I understand why people are voting for Syriza, and I think Tsipras is a good guy; I don't mind if they are back in government because the same will happen, no matter who gets in."

÷ Shona Murray is a journalist with Newstalk radio

Irish Independent

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