Greece votes as eurozone future hangs in balance
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Voters in Greece returned to the polls on Sunday as they attempt to elect a government for the second time in as many months. The crucial vote is being seen as a referendum on austerity and whether Greece’s future lies in or out of the eurozone.
The eyes of the world’s financial markets were on Greece on Sunday as voters headed to the polls to elect a new government.
After elections on May 6 failed to produce an outright winner, Greeks returned to the voting booths for what many saw as a last chance to save the country from bankruptcy and an ignominious exit from the eurozone.
Sunday’s vote was billed as a referendum on the €130 billion bailout deal and the accompanying painful austerity measures demanded by Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
And just in case voters had failed to grasp the significance of Sunday’s ballot, various world leaders have stepped in to ensure they are aware.
US President Barack Obama was one of many to pile pressure on Greece’s nine million voters, warning of the dangerous implications of exiting the euro not just for Greece but for the rest of the world.
On one side of the Greek battlefield is radical left-wing firebrand Alexis Tsipras, who leads the Syriza party. Tsipras, 37, has vowed to tear up the deeply unpopular bailout deal and renegotiate it from scratch.
“The bailout deal is already in the past. It will be history for good on Monday,” Tsipras said this week, sending a shiver down the spine of European leaders and global markets.
Naturally Tsipras has his enemies. The German version of the Financial Times newspaper came out against him this week, calling on Greek voters to reject the ideals of the far left and denouncing the “demagogy” of its leader.
Tsipras, who was almost unknown outside Greece before last month’s elections, wants to nationalize Greece’s banks and kickstart the crippled economy through spending.
He has also pledged to increase the minimum salary to €751 per month and raise pensions, reversing some of the steep cuts enforced as part of the bailout deal.
“The example of Spain shows that this crisis is not just in Greece but the whole of Europe and the way it has been dealt with up to now has been totally ineffective,” Tsipras said.
“If we do not cancel the bailout deal that has put us on the brink then a disaster is inevitable,” he said.
Renegotiating the bailout
On the other side of the battlefield is the conservative New Democracy party headed by Antonis Samaras, which came first in May’s election despite polling only 18.85% of the vote.
Samaras has said he will stick to the controversial EU bailout plan, though promising to renegotiate its terms in order to appease Greece’s angry voters.
His support for the bailout deal has won him some powerful backing outside Greece, not least from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and the IMF.
According to the latest opinion polls Samaras has a slender advantage over his far-left rival Tsipras, whom he has accused of seeking to drag Greece out of the eurozone.
“We will exit the crisis. We will not exit the euro. We will not let anyone take us out of Europe,” Samaras told supporters at an election rally on Friday.
“To be or not to be in the eurozone. That is the question,” Lucas Papademos, the former Socialist Prime Minister, said earlier this week in a nod to the famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Greek voters will be hoping Sunday’s election will help avoid a different kind of tragedy.