ATHENS, Sept 13, 2015 (AFP) – Greece’s snap election next weekend will be a cliffhanger, with latest opinion polls Sunday giving the radical left Syriza party only a razor-thin lead over its conservative rivals.
Greeks are voting for the fifth time in six years as former prime minister Alexis Tsipras seeks a fresh mandate to push through tough reforms pledged under a new 86-billion-euro ($97-billion) international bailout.
But Sunday’s election is likely to deliver a hung parliament and more unpopular eurozone-imposed austerity for crisis-weary Greeks, no matter who ends up in charge.
Opinion polls published a week ahead of the vote showed Tsipras’ Syriza almost neck-and-neck with the main opposition conservative New Democracy party.
Syriza was set to win 25.9 percent of the vote against 25.5 percent for New Democracy, according to an MRB poll for the Real News newspaper, figures largely reflected in other surveys.
Another poll by Public Issue for Avghi — a pro-Syriza newspaper — predicted a tie with both parties at 31 percent.
It said 40 percent of respondents thought Tsipras was the best person to lead Greece against 37 percent who chose Evangelos Meimarakis, New Democracy’s tough-talking leader.
Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which is hoping to capitalise on Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis, remained the third party with support ranging from 6.4 to seven percent.
With neither Syriza nor New Democracy expected to win an outright majority, at least three other smaller parties — centrist To Potami, the Pasok socialists and the nationalist Independent Greeks — could find themselves in government.
The 41-year-old Tsipras, battling an internal revolt over the country’s third massive bailout since 2010, quit his post in August, triggering an early election.
– ‘Who can negotiate better?’ –
Despite being accused by many Greeks of betrayal over his acceptance of the tough reforms demanded by creditors despite voters issuing a resounding ‘no’ to austerity in a July referendum, he took aim at New Democracy’s policies.
“New Democracy is with Mr Schaeuble’s Europe,” he told Ethnos newspaper, referring to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, seen as the man who strong-armed a nation and heaped more economic woes on its citizens.
“We are with the forces that desire a social shift and the disengagement from the neo-liberal doctrines.”
Both parties admit the necessity of implementing an unforgiving austerity plan including new tax hikes and market reforms tied to the EU bailout.
But Tsipras is campaigning on a pledge to keep pushing creditors to improve the bailout deal.
“Who can negotiate better, those who have ideological ties to austerity bailouts, or ourselves who fought and put the right of the people up front?” Tsipras said at a campaign rally last week.
He has said his goal is to take the country “out of tutelage” as soon as possible.
Despite the criticism, analysts say Tsipras remains popular with voters, with many accepting his argument that another painful bailout was the only way to stop Greece defaulting on its massive debts.
But Meimarakis, who became caretaker New Democracy chief in July, argues that Syriza’s seven months in power were disastrous for the economy.
“Without the referendum, we would not have needed 25 billion euros just for the banks,” Meimarakis told
Tsipras in a televised debate on September 7.
– ‘Can’t they work together?’ –
Many Greeks feel the election is unwarranted, and favour a broad coalition government — something unlikely to materialise Sunday.
“I ask Tsipras and Meimarakis, is there a chance they can work together for the good of the country?” schoolteacher Dimitris Margaris told Ethnos.
Private employee Evangelos Nanidis agreed.
“Why can’t they finally calm down and govern together?” he said.
In addition to Greece’s deep economic woes, migration is set to become a key campaign issue with the Greek islands struggling with a huge influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, in addition to economic migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other poor nations.
Another tragedy struck on Sunday, with at least 34 migrants drowning in the Aegean Sea, many of them babies and children.
Tsipras’ government took weeks to organise a response to the problem, leading to angry reactions from local communities.
The campaign is short as Greece must in October adopt a batch of additional reforms tied to its multi-billion EU bailout that was ratified by the parliament in August.
Chief among them is a new tax regime for farmers that scraps a number of benefits, making them a key dissatisfied group to watch in the election.