Greeks urged to reject the radical left
EUROPEAN leaders urged Greece to reject radical left wingers who threaten to tear up the terms of a bailout deal should they win the country’s general election.
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left wing party Syriza, is promising to reject the punishing terms of the ¤130 billion bailout if he wins today’s vote. In the past few months a tide of anger has fuelled his party’s rise from political obscurity to a contender for power in Greece’s second election this year.
On the right, establishment heir and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, 61, says that Syriza’s anti-austerity measures would send Greece crashing out of the single currency and condemn it to even greater economic calamity.
With the election set to go down to the wire, European leaders weighed in last night, urging Greeks to vote with their heads.
The bailout will not be renegotiated, warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country’s wealth is vital to shoring up its weaker partners in the bloc.
“That’s why it’s so important that the Greek elections preferably lead to a result in which those that will form a future government say: ‘yes, we will stick to the agreements’,” Merkel told a party conference of the Christian Democrats.
Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the group of Eurozone finance ministers, said there would be serious consequences if Syriza secured victory.
“If the radical left wins – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
“We will have to speak to any government. I can only warn everyone against leaving the currency union.
“The internal cohesion of the Eurozone would be in danger.”
Despite this, Tsipras said Greece’s lenders are bluffing when they threaten to turn off the funds if Athens reneges on the terms of the bailout – tax hikes, job losses and pay cuts that have helped condemn the country to record-breaking recession.
He said the Eurozone will not allow a Greek exit, fearing the pressure it would heap on the far larger economies of Spain, which has already secured a ¤100 billion rescue for its banks, and Italy, which could be next to seek a bailout.
Tsipras led Syriza to an unprecedented second place in last month’s polls with 16.8 per cent of the vote, trailing New Democracy on 19 per cent.
A mainstay of the anti-austerity movement, the civil engineer and former student activist has alarmed many in Greece and abroad by saying he wants to scrap Greece’s bailout deals, nationalise banks, restore drastically reduced pensions and salaries, and cancel plans to sack 150,000 civil servants.
Nevertheless, he backs Greece’s cherished position in the European Union and the Eurozone, and maintains that the country can stay within both groups even if it reneges on its austerity commitments.
Today’s vote is a re-run of a 6 May election that produced stalemate, when anger at the close-knit and often corrupt political clique that has run Greece for years propelled Syriza from the political fringe into second place.
Opinion polls published until a ban two weeks ago put the two parties almost neck and neck.
Kostas Manitsas, 28, a part-time teacher, said: “My heart says I should vote for the left, for all the horrible things these [mainstream] politicians have done to us, but my mind says vote for the right, so that Greece does not leave the euro.”
Neither Syriza nor New Democracy are projected to win enough votes to form a government alone, meaning Greece will have to form a coalition if it wants to avoid another election.
Elena Athanassopoulou, a political science professor at the American College of Greece, predicted “painful negotiations” among parties that would lead to a government after the vote, and said political stability was vital to prevent Greece going “any further down the slope.”
A Syriza victory today could sow turmoil on global financial markets, just as leaders of the Group of 20 world economic powers gather in Mexico tomorrow and on Tuesday for a meeting dominated by the crisis.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy made a plea yesterday for greater political and fiscal union in Europe, and urged Greeks to stick to the course.
“Europe has to transmit to the world that the euro is an irreversible project,” Rajoy told a political rally in San Sebastian.
“The vote must not be based on anger but on hope,” the liberal left daily Ta Nea implored in an editorial yesterday. “It must be based on the Greece of the euro, not the Greece of the drachma.”
Even if Samaras’ New Democracy emerges on top, there is no guarantee that Greece’s creditors, including other European countries and the International Monetary Fund, will accede to his desire to dilute the multi-billion dollar bailout terms, or that Greece can stick to austerity measures imposed by creditors.
Also, the strong showing in the last elections of a far-right party, Golden Dawn, and accusations that its supporters have attacked immigrants encapsulate the wider mood of alienation and uncertainty. “Right now in Greece, everybody gets to say everything, you get to listen to many opinions,” said Paris Mexis, a designer for Beetroot, an award-winning firm based in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-biggest city. “We have a community that doesn’t work as a community. We have renegade units, we have random units, we have people who produce and the production doesn’t go anywhere. Everybody is alone. We need to go back to philosophy.”
Greeks say they want to keep the euro, but they do not want the pension, wage and jobs cuts imposed by the bailout package and which have seen living standards plummet and unemployment reach almost 23 per cent.
The country’s lenders in the European Union and International Monetary Fund say they cannot have one without the other.
The world’s financial markets await the election results with interest.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east