Greek voters will head to the polls on Sunday with the ruling conservative-led ruling coalition and main opposition Radical Left SYRIZA party raising the stakes over the day after the double elections for European Parliament and local administration councils.
In the second round of municipal and regional government elections, the approximately 9.8 million eligible voters elect their representatives for the next five years in some 200 municipal councils and 12 regions nationwide, choosing among 422 and 24 ballots respectively. One regional governor and about 100 mayors were elected in the first round on May 18 which ended without clear winners, with both the central government coalition of New Democracy (ND) party with the socialists on one hand, and SYRIZA on the other, counting gains and losses.
The critical test for both sides however, according to parties’ officials and local analysts, is the electoral battle for the election of Greece’s 21 representatives in the new European Parliament (the number of seats allocated to Greece declined from 22 as a result of the 2013 reapportionment of seats in the European Parliament). A total of 1,299 candidates are competing for the seats under 40 ballots. It is the biggest number of candidates in relation to member states’ electoral bodies this year, according to European Parliament data.
At stake however is much more than these 21 seats which will be filled under the proportional system, as in the local elections. Traditionally Greek voters in local elections do not vote in line with their policy preferences rather than other emotional criteria, analysts noted. In elections for the European Parliament, as in general elections, the case is different and the message to political parties for their policies is clear. This Sunday’s European elections in Greece have turned into a kind of referendum on the handling of the four-year debt crisis, the signing of harsh bailout deals with international lenders and the economic policies of both sides.
The results of this particular electoral test could decide the future of the two-partite coalition, as a poor showing of the ruling parties could strengthen SYRIZA’s call for early general elections, commentators said. In the previous June 2009 European elections, the then main opposition PASOK party led by George Papandreou had won 36.6 percent of votes over 32.3 percent garnered by the ruling ND, while SYRIZA had ranked fourth with 4.7 percent after the Communist Party which had won 8.4 percent. In October 2009, just before the start of the debt crisis, PASOK triumphed in the general elections to shrink dramatically over the next years amidst the crisis.
The 2012 general elections produced the current coalition and a strong anti-bailout SYRIZA which insists on an alternative course to fix financial problems and heal society’s wounds from steep recession. SYRIZA leader and European Left party nominee for President of the European Commission Alexis Tsipras talks of a forthcoming “historic referendum which opens the way for a change of course.” Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras accuses him of an “irresponsible campaign to topple the government,” urging voters to choose “stability which bears fruits” over a “risky path which would undermine the progress achieved in recent years.”
Political and financial market analysts also note that snap elections could sink the country into political uncertainty, as it happened in 2012, with a severe impact on the economy again as it starts to stand on its feet. In the latest opinion surveys, SYRIZA has gained a slim lead of one to four percentage points over ND in the European elections battle (24.2 percent versus 20.8 percent in one survey or 25 percent over 22.5 in another). On the other hand, the conservatives seem to dominate the contests in the local and regional polls (with the exception of the posts of Mayor of Athens and Regional Governor of Attica where the runoffs are tense among candidates supported by ruling parties and SYRIZA).
Therefore, on late Sunday night and Monday morning both parties could present themselves as winners, analysts noted. After the May 18 first round, besides the dilemma between stability and change, both sides’ strategies focused on forming cross-party alliances on local level to boost their candidates’ chances of election and flirting in particular with the voters who supported the far-Right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) party the previous Sunday. GD’s performance in several constituencies raised concern, as its candidates gained up to 17 percent of votes in some cases up from the 7 percent the party won in the 2012 general elections, when it entered the parliament for the first time.
Even with most of the party’s 18 MPs (members of the parliament) today facing charges of participating in a criminal gang after the murder of an anti-fascist activist by a party supporter in autumn, Golden Dawn still managed to secure plenty of the votes in protest of austerity, analysts noted.
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