Greece election: New groups challenge old guard

May Day rally in Athens, 1 May, 2012 May Day: There is anger over austerity - likely to be reflected at the polls

On Sunday Greece will hold one of its most critical elections in decades.

With many voters registering a deep distrust of the two major parties, dozens of smaller parties have emerged - many with an anti-austerity agenda.

But where are the election posters?

I thought I spotted one on a lamp-post. It turned out to be for a concert. The picture not of a politician, but of a soft-permed crooner.

The main parties have been keeping a low profile - keen, would you believe, not to antagonise the voters or incite trouble. Politicians are not flavour of the month.

Greece election

  • Small parties make outcome unpredictable
  • Technocrat coalition of PM Lucas Papademos stepping down
  • EU partners insist Greece must maintain austerity measures to receive bailout instalments
  • Greece is in fifth year of recession
  • Unemployment is 21.7%

Who runs this country, however, is the main subject on peoples' lips.

Scepticism

In a bustling open air cafe in the Peloponnesian port city of Patras, Peter Flogeris considers himself a bit of a "barometer" of modern Greece. His establishment, 52 years old and counting, welcomes a cross-section of society.

"Right now [my customers] are not trusting the top two parties. They are the ones that didn't operate the system right," he says.

The two parties he speaks of are the social democratic Pasok and the conservative New Democracy (ND).

They have dominated the political landscape here since 1975, when the military junta fell.

So it is Pasok and ND who most here blame for leading Greece into the current crisis.

Both also are the two big backers of the painful cuts that Greece is implementing in return for its multi-billion-euro bailouts agreed with the "Troika" - the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and European Central Bank.

Not exactly vote-winning portfolios. The last polls here suggest Pasok and ND will lose support in Sunday's election.

Abandon bailout deal?
Panos Kammenos campaigning in Patras Panos Kammenos, a former ND member of parliament, believes that Greece should go it alone

One party many are expected to turn to is the newly formed "Independent Greeks".

Its leader, Panos Kammenos, a former ND member of parliament, breaks into quite a sweat as he strides energetically towards the main square in Patras.

Stopping at a cafe, he receives a light round of applause and gets an endorsement from a smartly dressed middle-aged lady standing close by.

"His solution is the only one for Greece."

The solution he is advocating is - in effect - to abandon the bailout agreement so painfully and painstakingly negotiated.

"It doesn't exist," he says.

"In Greece we have a democracy. In the democracy we have a constitution. The constitution of Greece doesn't accept this kind of agreement."

So would he rip it up? He doesn't answer that question.

Mr Kammenos - polling around 10% - will not win this election. Nor will the other anti-bailout parties who are diverting support from the two traditional giants of Greek politics.

Start Quote

Antonis Samaras

We must end waste in the public sector, but there needs to be growth measures in the first place... We need growth to create jobs.”

End Quote Antonis Samaras New Democracy party

On other issues such parties are too far apart to form a grand coalition, but they do reflect a new mood in this weary, defeated country.

Growth is the word

Across the shimmering waters to the north lies the city of Thessaloniki.

And across a sea of blue and white Greek flags lies the man the polls suggest is most likely to be the next prime minister.

"We must end waste in the public sector," says Antonis Samaras of New Democracy.

"But there needs to be growth measures in the first place. I have been saying this in Greece for two years. We need growth to create jobs."

Growth is the word now, in Greece and beyond.

Will Mr Samaras be the next leader of Greece? Most probably. Will he form a coalition similar to the current government, with Pasok? If the polls are right, that is also probable.

No change then, you might think. But it will be a coalition weakened by the emergence of the anti-austerity parties.

Weakness, some argue, would be bad for Greece and bad for the euro. Before the end of June, as part of the bailout agreement, the new government has to push through dozens of reforms, including an overhaul of the tax and justice systems. It also needs to find another 11.5bn euros (£9bn; $15bn) in savings.

If it cannot the bailout will be in jeopardy, and Greece's membership of the eurozone will again be in question.

The main parties say leaving the euro would cause even greater economic pain for Greece. Brussels fears it could threaten the very existence of the single currency.

Farmer Giorgos Dimitrios Farmer Giorgos Dimitrios wants to see a new leader reopen discussions with the IMF

Many here believe the new government will be so weak that Greece will have to hold another election within months.

By then the fruit on Giorgos Dimitrios' farm will have been harvested.

For now though the air is full with the strong, sweet scent of orange pollen.

It enters the nostrils as the workers push aside the branches of each tree, to find the ripest oranges, cutting them off with a sharp snip of their secateurs.

Who will Mr Dimitrios vote for? "The party that wants to negotiate again all the things with the Troika," he says.

"If the Troika won't do that so we have to leave the euro and pay the cost. If it is a cost," he adds, with a smile.

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