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Greek Elections Campaign Reaches Home Stretch With Promises Flying

New Democracy head Antonis Samaras is leading in the polls and has mostly preached to party supporters

ATHENS – After a three-week campaign that was mostly conducted in closed-doors members-only rallies and away from a public furious over austerity measures, a mix of mainstream traditionalists, anti-capitalists, anti-bailout groups, Nazis, nationalists and even a porno star made last-minute appeals to a disenfranchised and disaffected electorate in what promises to give the country the likelihood of another coalition government.
The two major ruling parties, the New Democracy Conservatives who were leading in polls, and their bitter rival PASOK Socialists, now in an uneasy power-sharing hybrid alliance, were hovering at around a combined 40 percent, half of what they garnered in the 2009 elections when then Socialist leader George Papandreou was elected. He discovered the country’s economy had collapsed and imposed pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions on Greek workers on the orders of the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up two bailouts totaling $325 billion to prop up the country.
Papandreou was forced out of office six months ago after incessant protests, strikes and riots against austerity, leading to the coalition, which briefly included the far Right-Wing LAOS party, which later dropped out but has seen its support falter to possibly below the 3 percent threshold needed to gain seats in Parliament. That, and public fury against austerity and the leading parties, opened the door for the neo-Nazi Fascists of the Golden Dawn Party, which wants to expel all immigrants and plant landmines around the border to seal it off, to rapidly gain support. Golden Dawn was at about 5 percent in the polls, enough to gain as many as 10 seats in the 300-member Parliament. Greek law does not allow poll results to be published in the last 15 days of a campaign.
A motley of groups, including the Independent Greeks, formed by Panos Kammenos, who was kicked out of New Democracy by its leader Antonis Samaras for not supporting austerity, has cut deeply into support for the traditional rulers and drained away enough votes to make it unlikely for either to gain an outright victory and parliamentary majority. That means New Democracy and PASOK would either have to form another coalition with each other or even a third group or Greeks would face another election.
Samaras, seeing his party’s lead fading, decided not to campaign aggressively, sticking to a strategy of hosting indoor rallies for his own supporters instead of reaching out to those outside the party, although he made appeals to them. He warned Greece would be destabilized unless he wins a mandate to rule by himself. He supported the austerity measures he opposed when Papandreou was in power, but hinted he may try to renegotiate the terms, although the Troika warned that would lead to a cut-off in the money pipeline, without which Greece can’t pay its workers and pensioners.
PASOK’s new leader Evangelos Venizelos, who as finance minister in the coalition doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, also engineered a $134 billion write-down in Greece’s debt through a so-called Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal, but imposed 74 percent losses on investors, locking Greece out of private markets and dependent on what is essentially welfare. The deal also required Greece to set aside all revenues needed to pay banks and investors first, and the Troika has said the new government will have to either raise $15 billion more in revenues or make more cuts. Venizelos promised he would stop taxing Greeks.
Samaras, reaching out to Golden Dawn’s growing audience, blasted immigrants as “tyrants” of Greek society and said he wanted to empty the cities of them. The coalition government, in what critics said was a pre-election gimmick, has rounded up thousands of them and begun putting them in detention camps, and also arrested former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos on money-laundering charges in what he too described as a “pre-election gift” to voters.
Samaras was also tough on the parties to New Democracy’s right, which are keeping him from winning a majority of the vote. “They are water carriers for PASOK, they have nothing to offer, they simply put obstacles in the way of us achieving a strong popular mandate,” he said of Independent Greeks, LAOS, and Golden Dawn, who oppose the bailouts. “It is shameful because they promise paradise with material from hell. They are devils,” added Samaras. He urged voters to especially reject Golden Dawn. “Isolate the Nazis,” he told New Democracy supporters. “Political monsters like this should not exist in Greece or its Parliament.”
He said he would not work with PASOK to form another coalition, saying that, “A coalition would not be in the interests of the Greek people. “If we do not get a strong mandate, there will be instability,” said the ND leader. “We want to overturn the policies of PASOK, not always have to keep fine balances.”
VENIZELOS STRIKES BACK
Venizelos is trying to convince Greeks that he had no choice but to tax them and cut their pay. He said unless Greeks elect a pro-European government, Greece could be forced out of the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency, back to the drachma and into complete economic catastrophe. The ratings agency Fitch’s this week also said that’s a growing possibility. PASOK has sunk as low as fifth place in opinion polls but rebounded after Venizelos took over and sources familiar with Greek polling practices told Greek Reporter that Greeks seemed likely to return to traditional voting habits more than expected and give the two ruling parties as much as 40-45 percent of the combined vote.
Venizelos insists the party did what was best for Greece despite arousing the hatred of many former supporters. ”We sacrificed our election result to the national cause and the public interest,” he told Reuters in a recent interview. ”This was something rare in European political history. In the last week of the campaign, he was giving a flurry of interviews while Samaras went into a defense campaign mode trying to protect his lead.  The election is being closely watched in Europe and around the world because of its potential to destabilize the Eurozone and rock world markets.
Venizelos would rather have a wider coalition with a third party prime minister, such as the current interim Premier, former ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos who said he wants no more of the jobs, and said he can convince lenders to spread the painful measures agreed in exchange for the second bailout of $173 billion to be spread over three years instead of two.
WHAT CHALLENGERS WANT
Greece’s youngest political leader, Alexis Tsipras, is seeking a united left front to work with his SYRIZA party but alienated his party base by saying he could work with the nationalists of Independent Greeks, who include former military and police officers whose platform is the antithesis of his agenda. He said the ultimatum for Greeks to support New Democracy and PASOK again or face being pushed out of the Eurozone, a scare tactic being used by frightened traditionalists. Tsipras, 38, is appealing to the KKE communists, the Democratic Left and others to team up to vote out policies driving Greeks into poverty.
“We want to form a government that will lead the way out of this destructive austerity and deep recession, the policies that face a dead end,” he told Reuters before a speech to voters in Volos, a port city in central Greece. With his party likely to get 9 to 13 percent of the vote based on recent polls, Tsipras has gone as far as to offer the office of prime minister to the head of the KKE, Aleka Papariga, who said she doesn’t want to rule, only to oppose. Often blamed by the Socialists for inciting violent protests, he has promised to freeze payments to creditors and renegotiate measures included in Greece’s latest rescue package. Polls show Greeks wanting to punish the two big parties in this vote but also desiring to stay in the euro. Tsipras said the contradiction is not a contradiction.
The  leader of Democratic Left, Fotis Kouvelis, whose party had risen as high as second in earlier polls but has slumped, said he does want to join a coalition government with New Democracy and PASOK but does not want Greece to go through a period of constant elections. “We will not give a democratic, left alibi to this coalition, which some are promoting.”
Kouvelis said that Democratic Left’s two conditions for working with another party after the elections are that it supports Greece’s participation in the Eurozone and the gradual “decoupling” from the Troika loan agreement. Kouvelis said that if Democratic Left gets enough votes to be among the top three parties, it will attempt to form a government, if it is given the chance to do so. “We have said from the start that we are not indifferent about the next government’s policies, nor about the possibility of the country remaining ungoverned and having to go through repeated elections,” he said.
“We want the country to have a progressive government. If we are asked by the president to form a government, we will appeal to progressive forces based on a specific policy program,” added the veteran leftist. Meanwhile, Kammenos, riding a mini-surge and standing at about 11 percent in earlier polls, said the bailouts are destroying Greece’s sovereignty, condemning it to become a powerless province in a ”federalist” Europe he describes as a ”Fourth Reich” dominated by Germany, which proportionately loans the biggest share of Greece’s loan monies and demanded austerity but insisted Greece keep buying weapons from German manufacturers.
To drive the point home, he launched his party from the remote village of Distomo, where German occupation forces killed more than 200 civilians in the Second World War. Attacking Greece’s neighbor and traditional rival Turkey is another favorite Kammenos pastime. He said Athens should unilaterally set sea boundaries with Turkey – a move that Ankara has said it could view as a cause for war.
(Sources: Kathimerini, Reuters)

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