Greek Election Campaigns Crank Up

Ballot BoxA week before Greeks go to the polls to vote in local elections – and two weeks before those for the European Parliament – the race between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy Conservatives and major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is essentially even.

Surveys show the two parties are neck-and-neck in both races while Samaras’ coalition partner, PASOK Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos, is almost dead in the water even after tying his party to a new center-left political movement Elia (Olive Tree) in a desperate bid to stay alive.

SYRIZA opposes the austerity terms that came with two bailouts totaling 240 billion euros ($330.7 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that Samaras backed before trying to offset them with a bevy of promises including social divided and planned tax cuts.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has predicted the ruling parties will be so repudiated that it will force early elections that will bring him to power. He has vowed to revise the terms or renege on the payments, while Samaras is stressing that he’s bringing stability after six years of recession.

SYRIZA leads New Democracy 18.5-18 percent in a survey by Efimerida ton Syntakton daily while another poll, in the weekly Paraskinio, put ND at 22.5 percent, just ahead of SYRIZA with 21.1 percent.

The Paraskinio poll showed Elia edging up to 7 percent, just behind the new populist, anti-politician party To Potami (The River) at 7.7 percent, with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which had been third, now fifth at 6.4 percent.

All of the extremists 18 Members of Parliament have been arrested or jailed on charges of running a criminal gang as the government tries to dismantle the party.

The Efimerida ton Syntakton poll put To Potami at 5.5 percent with Elia at 4.5 percent and Golden Dawn with only 3.5 percent, after running as high as 13 percent last year before one of its members was charged with killing an anti-fascist hip-hop artist, setting off a crackdown. Some 16 percent of voters are undecided.

Venizelos, with polls showing his party is irrelevant, has pleaded with voters to give him support or face the dissolution of the government, denying he was practicing political blackmail. The coalition has only a two-vote majority in Parliament and New Democracy can’t stand alone.

Without PASOK’s MPs “there is no government, there is no stability, there is no prospect for the nation,” Venizelos said in a televised press conference after rebuffing speculation about his stance signaling the possible withdrawal of PASOK from the coalition.

Samaras and Venizelos visited central Greece, the premier going to Tripoli and Venizelos to Larissa to trump up votes.

Tsipras continued to juggle election campaigning at home with his bid for the European Commission Presidency during a visit to Berlin on  May 10 where he presented the dilemma of “the Left or Merkel” again, casting the German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the champion of austerity.

She backs aid for Greece, most of it being put up by Germany, but only on the condition of big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.

WWII hero and SYRIZA stalwart suggested if the Leftists come to power they could seize bank account deposits over 100,000 euros ($137,000) similar to what Cyprus did in confiscating 47.5 percent of those amounts in a deal to get a 10 billion euro bailout from the Troika.