NEWS

Greeks vote in crucial elections, Europeans look on

Greeks go to the polls on Sunday in what could be one of the country?s most crucial parliamentary elections. You can follow events on our election blog (http://ekathimerini.com/ekathi/page1/elections2012.

Conservative New Democracy and leftist SYRIZA are competing for first place in the elections, offering opposite views on how to deal with the country?s economic crisis.

New Democracy wants to stick with the current fiscal adjustment, albeit with revisions, and the reforms demanded by the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund so Greece can continue to receive loans to repay its public debt and cover some of its public spending.

SYRIZA argues that the current formula is choking Greece?s economy and means the country will never be in a position to repay its debt. It proposes scrapping the loan agreement, known as the memorandum, and drawing up a new deal with Greece?s eurozone partners.

Opinion polls indicate that ND and SYRIZA are running neck and neck for first place, which would grant the winning party an extra 50 seats in Parliament. This would be vital for forming a coalition government. Neither party is likely to win an outright majority.

Center-left PASOK is expected to come in third place, with anti-bailout Independent Greeks, Democratic Left, the Communist Party and neo-Nazi Golden Dawn also vying for seats in Parliament.

The elections are being closely watched in other eurozone member states and beyond. Several European officials expressed concern over the weekend about the outcome of the Greek vote.

Speaking on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that any new Greek government would have to stick with the current austerity policies.

?It cannot be the case and this is also an issue now in connection with the Greek election ? that what comes out in the end is that those who don?t keep to an agreement, can so to speak, lead everyone else through the arena by the nose ring,? Merkel said during a conference of her CDU party.

?That won?t work,? she added. ?That is why it is so important that, in the Greek election tomorrow?a result emerges in which those who form a government in future tell us, yes, we want to keep to the agreements.?

Merkel held a telephone conversation with French President Francois Hollande on Saturday, in which the two leaders discussed the Greek elections.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker suggested a win for SYRIZA could have widespread implications.

"If the radical left wins - which cannot be ruled out - the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable,» Juncker, head of the group of eurozone finance ministers said.

Both comments received a negative reaction in Greece but a letter by Germany?s Bild newspaper to Greek voters went down even worse. The tabloid warned Greeks: ?Tomorrow you have elections but you do not have any choices.?

?If you don?t want our billions, you are free to elect any left- or right-wing clowns that you want,? the newspaper said in its open letter. ?For more than two years, thought, your ATMs are only issuing euros because we put them there.

?If the parties that want to end austerity and reforms win the elections, they will be breaching all agreements and we will stop paying.?

The first round of exit polls is due as soon as voting ends at 7 p.m. A second round of exit polls is expected about an hour later.

The first projection based on actual votes counted is due at about 9.30 p.m.

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