Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy Party, addresses an election rally in Thessaloniki Wednesday. One of two dominant parties in Greek politics, New Democracy has lost support to a new nationalist party.
Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy Party, addresses an election rally in Thessaloniki Wednesday. One of two dominant parties in Greek politics, New Democracy has lost support to a new nationalist party. Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP
It's anyone's guess what the Greek government will look like on Monday, but analysts predict a fragile coalition that must still stick to austerity to keep getting international bailout loans.
The country's early parliamentary elections Sunday are set to be the most divisive in recent history. Voters who are tired of austerity measures are rejecting mainstream politics and turning instead to fringe parties.
The conservative New Democracy Party and the Socialist Party, PASOK, have dominated Greek politics for three decades. This election, enthusiasm is waning.
A Search For Stability
The northern port city of Thessaloniki has long been a stronghold for the New Democracy Party. Just a few years ago, tens of thousands of impassioned supporters used to pack New Democracy campaign rallies. This week, a much smaller and more subdued crowd waved blue-and-white Greek flags as music blasted from a makeshift stage.
A few people clapped and cheered when leader Antonis Samaras strode to the podium and said that he would bring growth and justice to Greece.
Transplant surgeon Dimitris Gakis says he'll vote for the party because Greece also needs stability.
"This election, in my opinion, is the most critical election since the end of the Second World War for Greece," he says, "and I'm afraid that if we [do] not have on Monday a capable government, we will be in trouble."
By "trouble," Gakis means economic chaos that could lead to a euro zone exit.
New Democracy has lost many voters to a new nationalist party called the Independent Greeks, which held a competing rally across town.
About 1,000 supporters blew horns to welcome Independent Greeks party leader Panos Kammenos — a wealthy, Swiss-educated businessman who quit New Democracy because he opposed the international bailouts.
He gives fire-breathing speeches blaming Europeans and immigrants for the country's problems.
Vegetable seller Tassos Giannoulides says he hopes the party will stop austerity, which has forced Greeks to leave the country to work.
He says pretty soon, there won't be anybody left, and they need a revolution to stand on their own two feet.
Socrates Mavridis says Greece doesn't need the European Union to stand tall. The hotel clerk voted for PASOK in the past but now says mainstream politicians are hopelessly corrupt.
He says he may vote for the Independent Greeks — or Golden Dawn, a once-obscure fascist and anti-immigrant party that's expected to win seats on Sunday.
Golden Dawn promotes a neo-Nazi ideology and wants to "clean" Greece of foreigners, especially from South Asia and Africa.
Mavridis says Golden Dawn members are patriots who want to crack down on corruption and crime. He says Greeks believe mainstream politicians have ruined national pride.
"The average people, yeah, they feel like this," Mavridis says, "and it's not their fault because the average Greek didn't steal things or money [or make] some strange business. Especially the workers, the pensioners, the majority of the people."
No Easy Fixes
Back in the capital, Athens, Miltiades Varvitsiotis is running for re-election with New Democracy. He says it's hard to reach voters like Mavridis, who have given up on a system that has failed them.
"They believe that everything has to be dismantled. Therefore, they don't listen," Varvitsiotis says. "They are convinced that everything has to be destroyed and that the whole political system has to be down the drain, without second questions. So there isn't any window of communication with them."
Economist Manos Matsaganis says he expects many disaffected voters to support slash-and-burn populists as a way to punish mainstream parties.
Matsaganis is a parliamentary candidate with the Democratic Left, a new progressive party that's anti-austerity but pro-European. The Democratic Left and a more established leftist party, Syriza, have attracted many disaffected PASOK voters.
Matsaganis says many anti-bailout populists don't understand that it will take time and a concrete plan to get Greece out of its devastating recession.
"They seem to think that there are very easy solutions, quick fixes that don't exist," he says, "and I fear that we will enter a period of great confusion and even ungovernability ... that the country will be ungovernable."