Yet another election? Weary Greeks see little gain from ballot

Yet another election? Weary Greeks see little gain from ballot

Like many Greeks, Christi Psarra has no illusions about what the country’s third vote in less than a year will bring.

“On Sunday, we will wake up, go to the polling station and each one of us will vote for change, but nothing will really change in the end,” said the 30-year-old, who works for a shipping company. “Futile. That’s the only word that comes to mind when I think about the elections.”

As Greeks are summoned to the ballot box yet again — after a vote in January that brought former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to power and a referendum in July on the terms of the country’s European bailout — election fatigue has set in. Voters are bracing for more economic pain no matter who’s elected.

Tsipras stepped down on Aug. 20 after eight months in power, announcing new parliamentary elections following the political turmoil resulting from his government’s signing of a third bailout agreement with Greece’s creditors in August. New austerity measures in the 86 billion-euro ($97.2 billion) bailout saw Tsipras suffer defections of his own party’s lawmakers, forcing him to seek a new mandate.

“Holding elections continuously in such a short period of time creates for citizens the impression that their vote is of little importance,” said Jenny Papadopoulou, a bank employee.

Election fatigue

Some of the ballot weariness is evident in the lackluster campaign participation. As with the year’s earlier votes, party kiosks have been set up in Athens’s Syntagma square and rallies will be held by the main parties. Yet while people huddle around in the square, the mood is somber and there is none of the passion or enthusiasm that marked the previous ballots. 

“I voted against austerity in January when I voted SYRIZA and voted no in the referendum, but my pension was still cut,” said Lefteris Stanitsas, a 68-year-old retired sales assistant. “I won’t vote this time, simply because whoever wins, they’ll cut my pension further, so what’s the point?”

Greeks are right to think their votes won’t make much of a difference, according to Aristides Hatzis, professor of law and economics at the University of Athens.

“These elections aren’t obviously going to change anything in a sense that both leaders of the biggest parties have agreed — and it was the only thing they actually agreed on — that anything that has been signed and passed through parliament on the latest bailout is not going to change.”

Bailout terms

The aid package, Greece’s third since 2010, spells out the details of the economic overhaul the government committed to in exchange for the loans. Measures include a clampdown on early retirement, state asset sales, the recapitalization of the country’s lenders and changes to the regulation for pharmacies and bakeries.

Opinion polls show Tsipras’s SYRIZA and Evangelos Meimarakis’s New Democracy vying for first place, with neither of the two in a position to win an absolute majority that would allow them to form a government without some sort of coalition with a smaller party. Tsipras has ruled out a coalition with Meimarakis.

Turnout in these elections is likely to be lower than in the January vote, when it was 63.6 percent. The referendum in July had a turnout of 62.2 percent.

“The room for something to change is pretty tight,” Hatzis said. “What is different from January is that then, while the average SYRIZA voter wasn’t expecting Tsipras to tear the memorandum apart, they did hope for room to be able to introduce a different policy.”

Since he didn’t, many Greeks say there’s little to gain from this ballot.

“I really don’t care anymore,” said Stelios Petsos, a 37-year-old food delivery man. “Every time we’ve changed government in the past five years, the situation has got worse. This time we know that whoever wins, the result will be more of the same, so I’m going to the beach instead — before they start taxing that as well.”


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