Greece Faces Critical, Uncertain Election
PASOK, which stormed to victory in the last parliamentary election in 2009 with more than 43% and George Papandreou at its helm, has seen its support collapse over the past two years. Now headed by former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, it is fighting off a challenge by anti-bailout left-wing parties, with opinion polls projecting PASOK to win between 14.5% and 19%. If that happens, it would be the lowest since November 1974, when the party won 13.5% just two months after being founded.
Venizelos warned that Greece faces default and mass poverty if voters back antibailout parties.
"Sunday will decide whether we remain in Europe and the euro, and we stay on a course that is difficult but safe, after having covered most of the distance, to finally emerge from the crisis and (austerity)," he said during his final campaign rally in central Athens on Friday night.
"Or it will (determine) whether we embark on an adventure, sliding back many decades and taking the country to default, to leave Greeks facing mass poverty."
Repeated rounds of tax increases and reductions of salaries and pensions over the past two years have seen the country mired in a fifth year of recession and unemployment spiral to more than 21%. The backlash has seen voters turn to smaller groups and mostly antibailout offshoots created by disgruntled deputies who rebelled rather than vote in favor of the measures.
"This whole situation has destroyed our dreams," said Haris Manolis, a worker at a steel factory where employees have been on strike for six months to protest layoffs and wage cuts. "We have no more dreams. We have one: to overturn them so that we can make new ones. That's it."
Up to an unprecedented 10 parties have been projected to win more than the 3% minimum threshold for a parliamentary seat. That includes the extreme right Golden Dawn, which has been riding high on the emotive issue of illegal immigration, promising to clean up crime-ridden, ghetto-like city neighborhoods and mine the country's borders to stop more migrants getting in.
"People are not choosing smaller parties because they believe in their agendas," political communications expert Spiros Rizopoulos said. "I doubt if anyone has ever read an agenda of a smaller party. It's because they want to protest a decision that has been made" that led Greece into the bailouts and the ensuing austerity.