Greeks gear up for election with no clear winner, or challenger

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SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras is losing popularity as a snap election draws near. After a tumultuous few months, polls show a torn Greek electorate.

In the weeks since former prime minister Alexis Tsipras resigned from his post, his showings in the polls have been lacklustre.

Hailed as Europe’s anti-austerity poster boy when he was swept into power in January on a wave of rebellious sentiment against bailout conditions imposed by international creditors, Tsipras once seemed invincible. Even as he battled Brussels during months of tough negotiations on a third bailout package and saw the country’s banks shut, Tsipras’ popularity hadn’t wavered.

Until now.

On Sunday, Greeks will go to the polls for the third time this year to cast a vote on whether to stay the course with Tsipras, cast the country’s economy into the hands of conservative leader Evangelos Meimarakis, or choose one of the myriad smaller parties whose strength is increasing by the day.

If recent surveys are any indication, Greece has lost faith in anti-austerity promises but is not yet entirely swayed by conservative promises of growth and job creation.

Two polls published this week show Tsipras’ SYRIZA and Meimarakis’ New Democracy party nearly neck-and-neck, with each pulling in around 27 per cent of the vote. On Thursday, a poll showed New Democracy edging slightly ahead.

The results, which consolidate recent trends that showed New Democracy gaining against SYRIZA’s historic popularity, mean that neither party would win an outright majority – even with a bonus of 50 seats that will go to the party that clinches the most ballots.

During a televised debate, Tsipras ruled out the possibility of a grand coalition with the conservatives, saying that it would be “unnatural.” But after a tumultuous, if short-lived, reign, his base of support has waned.

“SYRIZA is seriously struggling,” Janis Emmanouilidis, political analyst and director of studies at the European Policy Centre in Brussels told dpa. “They had such huge support in January that even non-party people were saying ‘we need to vote because this is the future of our country.’ But now people are deeply disappointed, and it’s gotten much harder for SYRIZA to motivate its own electorate.”

Soured by compromises Tsipras said he was forced to take to secure bailout funding and keep the country from bankruptcy or from tipping out of the eurozone, leftist factions within SYRIZA have witheld their support for crucial parliamentary votes over the summer.

When parliament approved a new financial assistance programme tied to tough austerity measures on August 13, Tsipras saw 44 votes from his own camp go missing. A week later, he stepped down and the dissenters went on to create their own party, calling it Popular Unity.

But neither they nor SYRIZA’s former coalition, Independent Greeks, regularly poll above a 3-per-cent threshold required to secure any seats in parliament at all. Emmanouilidis said he expects Popular Unity to clinch enough votes for a showing in parliament, but added that their anti-euro platform rubs against the opinions of most Greeks, who want to remain in the common currency.

Meimarakis, who has accused Tsipras of lying to voters and squandering Greece’s fiscal surplus, has promised to recharge the economy and boost political collaboration. While his party lent its support to SYRIZA in recent months during critical bailout votes, it’s unclear that it can cobble together enough coalition partners to be able to govern.

“New Democracy has no clear plan,” George Tzogopoulos, a political analyst at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), told dpa.

“But after changing its leader it has managed to achieve a remarkable political rally, especially with the participation of people who do no want Tsipras to govern again, who like entrepreneurship and who have suffered from capital controls.”

The euphoric hope that drove SYRIZA into power in January, that Greece would stage a successful political challenge to austerity while retaining its status within Europe has largely ebbed. In Brussels, analysts say the expectation is that whoever comes to power will make sure Greece meets its agreement.

“The party that wins the most votes in the election – Syriza or ND – will have been elected to implement the bailout plan,” BNP Paribas bank analyst Frederique Cerisier said.

“The stability and depth of the coalition are its most crucial aspects,” he added, “since implementing the plan will require the government to take some more very difficult decisions.”

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