Greece election: Wind of change sweeps through Athens

Man holding his fist in the air at a rally in Athens
Image caption Greeks used May Day rallies in Athens to call for change

Slogans are everywhere. Pinned to trees, stuck to houses, hung up like Christmas lights across town. Voices boom out of loudspeakers intermittently and there are constant late night gatherings. It is the last week of campaigning across Greece before one of the country's most critical elections of the last three decades.

Despite all the rhetoric, it seems most Greeks are still undecided about who they will vote for.

Not least because this year there are 32 parties to choose from, eight to 10 of which it is thought could enter parliament.

With only days to go before they must visit the ballot box, many Greeks say they are still clueless about which party to pick. But while undecided about whom to vote for, they are resolute in the need for change.

The two main parties which make up the outgoing coalition - the centre-right New Democracy and Socialist Pasok - bear the brunt of public anger.

A frustrated population blames them for the past two years of painful austerity, no economic growth and a lack of change in the political system. The sentiment of the Greek public is easy to see.

Winds of change

Despite the last set of polls still suggesting a majority for Pasok and New Democracy, their combined percentage of the overall vote was close to an historic low.

Voters who traditionally supported the old guard are turning their heads elsewhere.

"This has been the most difficult election yet," says George Nikitiadis, Pasok's Deputy Tourism Minister.

"People are stressed by so many measures. The number of smaller parties gaining ground is a great fear for us, because we believe that it is us who has the ability to form a government. We are the pioneers of avoiding bankruptcy."

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Media captionThanos Veremis, Professor of Modern History at the University of Athens, explains the rise of Golden Dawn

Mr Nikitiadis has spent the past month apologising. "We know our mistakes. Unlike other parties we apologise to people and feel an ethical obligation to say sorry."

But as the popularity of the two main parties slumps, others are gaining support rapidly.

The steep rise in popularity of leftist parties such as Democratic Left and Left Coalition is being followed carefully by Europe, wary that both are keen to make changes to the bailout conditions.

Their anti-austerity speeches have gained them many voters and together the parties of the left could have the potential to form a parliamentary majority.

New contenders

Former New Democracy MP Panos Kammenos founded his own party, Independent Greeks, in February.

If he wins a seat in parliament, he has promised not to form a coalition with anyone who backs the bailout conditions that Greece agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In the space of only two months, if the latest polls are to be believed, Independent Greeks will have become Greece's third biggest party.

The party appeals to those who feel their country's sovereignty has been eroded by the eurozone and the IMF.

"We are under an occupation of loan sharks and under the command of Germany," says Terens Kwik - a Greek television personality turned party spokesman.

"1974 was the end of a dictatorship. Now is the end of the political period after that dictatorship. The cycle is closing and new things are starting."

New breed of politician

Image caption Spending cuts and tax increases have sparked violence and numerous strikes

Thanos Tzimeros shares that optimism for starting afresh. A complete newcomer to politics, he argues that Greece needs to be completely rebuilt from the bottom up.

His party, formed last December is aptly named Recreate Greece. None of its members has ever been a politician, until now.

"All these years two Greeces existed," he explains. "The first was the corrupt Greece you see on the evening news and the second a silent Greece with innovative, dignified, hard-working people.

"Now is the moment that the 'other' Greece will create a new political scene.

"The problem is not the debt, but the mechanism which creates it. We have to rebuild Greece."

Mr Tzimeras says day by day, more Greeks with the same way of thinking are joining the party.

He knows he is unlikely to get a seat in parliament this weekend, but he believes that once his message spreads, many more will join him.

Rise of Far Right

As in other parts of Europe, extreme right-wing politics is playing a larger role.

In the more rundown areas of Athens, Golden Dawn has shot to prominence.

With many people feeling let down by the government's failure to deal with the country's huge immigration problem, the party has stepped in with hardline solutions.

It does not hide its admiration for many of Hitler's policies and its symbol resembles a swastika, although the party says the logo is based on an ancient Greek sign.

Professor of modern history at the University of Athens Thanos Veremis accuses them of attacking illegal immigrants, while at the same time helping local Greeks with everyday tasks such as going to the supermarket.

"Golden Dawn is a new phenomenon in Greece... [It is] a local Robin Hood, but always in the thug capacity."

He says Greek people are confused and do not know what they want right now.

Image caption Panos Kammenos has used anti-austerity rhetoric to win support for his new Independent Greeks party

He wants people to vote without anger so that after election day Greece wakes up with a workable government, not a quarrelling and ineffectual group of politicians who all want to lead.

Sprit of co-operation

But there are some parties willing to put aside differences and work together.

The leader of the Democratic Alliance, Dora Bakoyannis, has said she would participate in a coalition under specific conditions.

Her party spokesperson, Thanasis Zorbas, says he welcomes the abundance of smaller parties on the political scene:

"If more parties get into government, this will be a good thing. Something new will be born. More parties will improve dialogue, help us to get through the crisis and ensure we move forward".

With most polls suggesting it is touch and go as to whether the more traditional parties can scrape together a joint majority, there may be a bigger role to play in the near future for the many smaller parties emerging and gaining ground.

Whether they are strong enough to have a resounding impact on Greece's stale and problematic political system remains to be seen.

Most Greeks hope that their endurance of the long and painful economic crisis will not have been in vain.

Most hope that a positive legacy will be born out of the mess that has been created - a new political era for Greece, one that is more accountable and less corrupt.