Greeks old and young united in disdain for ruling parties

Georgios Pasayannis was a Greek civil servant for 40 years, and the 73-year-old pensioner voted faithfully for New Democracy throughout, confident his future was safe in the hands of the conservative party.

Now he says he will never cast his ballot again for «those crooks» or their coalition partners, the centre-left PASOK party, since they cut his 1,500 euro per month pension by a third while pushing through tax increases.

Their mismanagement of Greece has turned the twilight of his life into a grinding struggle. Pasayannis, who worked for the defence ministry, says he plans to get revenge at the May 6 national elections.

“We pay and pay, but we have nothing for it,» said the man who had hoped for a carefree retirement in the seaside village of Marathon, 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Athens. «They cheated us and lied to us for years. They’re a bunch of crooks.”

Greeks are in a fractious mood ahead of the election, and much of their anger is directed at the two parties that have long dominated the political landscape.

Their discontent can be felt across the Mediterranean nation of 11 million, and it is especially palpable in Marathon, a dusty farming town of 8,000 that gave the world a synonym for endurance. Senior citizens like Pasayannis, whose pensions were cut as part of the government’s austerity drive, swing between shock and rage.

Mass defections from the ruling parties by the elderly, once their most loyal voters, will lead to a crumbling of support on May 6, pollsters say. About 30 percent of Greece’s 9.85 million strong electorate – 2.8 million – is over 65.

At the other end of the spectrum, legions of young voters are also turning their back on the two parties that have taken turns ruling Greece for the last four decades. About 15 percent of the electorate – 1.4 million – is 18 to 29.

The unemployment rate for Greeks under the age of 25 tops 50 percent. Hordes of young Greeks who have seen their career hopes destroyed by the economic implosion are also expected to turn their backs on ND and PASOK, pollsters say.

Opinion polls show gains for small parties that oppose the steep wage and pension cuts imposed on Greece by the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for aid.

In Marathon, where an ancient burial mound marks the famous battle in 490 BC when outnumbered Greeks defeated the Persians, the odds are stacked against the young.

Vicki Karabela, 24, is luckier than most. She works for the post office, but too many friends and relatives are without jobs as Greece’s recession enters its fifth year.

“Nobody is going to vote for the ruling parties because they’re a bunch of liars,» Karabela said, her eyes blazing. «No one believes a word these politicians say any more. I voted for them last time, but never again.”

She said if she does vote it will be for one of several smaller parties that pollsters say could win enough support to deny a majority to the two ruling parties, which won a combined 77 percent in the last election in 2009 but could fall short of 40 percent this time.

“Young people are suffering the most because of these clowns,» she said. «For young people in Greece now there is no job, no hope, no nothing.”

Though they express similar angry disillusion, the young and old are not expected to vote alike, say pollsters.

Seniors will likely stick to their left or right voting habits but shift to the smaller parties, while voters under 25 are more unpredictable.

“Old voters, over 55, vote more traditionally. The young have completely different criteria. It’s like two different worlds,» said Ilias Nikolakopoulos from Opinion Group.

Antonis Papas will not vote for PASOK again. Sitting inside his kiosk on Marathon’s main street with plenty of time on his hands, he said business has collapsed since the crisis hit.

Nowadays he is lucky to have daily sales of 10 to 20 euros, with his take-home earnings perhaps a third of that. Three years ago he was selling 150 to 200 euros’ worth of drinks, sweets, newspapers, magazines and tobacco each day.

“My life used to be good,» said the 58-year-old through his flowing beard. «Now I’m nothing. The government is treating old people like dirt.”

The election will be the first since the debt crisis blew up in 2009, plunging the country into its worst economic downturn since World War Two.

The snap election was called this month after Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’s emergency interim government made up of ND and PASOK completed its mandate to secure a new EU/IMF rescue deal and a landmark debt restructuring.

The human cost of the deal can be felt everywhere. Younger voters like George Triantis, 27, considers himself fortunate because he has a job in his family’s fishing line company.

But he said he will definitely not vote for ND or PASOK this time. The two parties have wreaked such havoc in Greece that they do not deserve another chance, he said.

“They didn’t tell us the truth about the situation, even though everyone knew what was happening,» he said. «People my age and younger feel cheated by the two big parties.”

Greeks have always loved talking politics, and this election is no different. Spiros Stefanopoulos, a 25-year-old who just graduated from university, worries his degree in electrical engineering will be of no help.

“I’m trying to find a job, but it’s extremely hard at the moment because no one is hiring, everyone is laying people off.”

He and his friend Christos Spulas, 25, broke out in laughter when asked if they would vote for ND or PASOK.

“No way,» said Spulas. «They’re all the same, and none of these parties are good for Greece. I’m not going to vote for anyone. It’s a very hard time to be looking for a job in Greece. It doesn’t matter if you have a degree in engineering or economics. We’re all unemployed.» [Reuters]