Greece Still Divided On Austerity After New Elections

The European debt crisis provided the backdrop to the weekend's election in Greece where a conservative, party won the most votes. The New Democracy party is working to form a coalition government and says Greece must meet its bailout commitments. But party leader Antonis Samaras also said he would work to alleviate the hardships Greeks have suffered under austerity measures.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel in Washington, D.C.

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And I'm Melissa Block hosting this week from NPR West in Culver City, California.

We begin this hour with the aftermath of yesterday's Greek elections. Politicians are hurrying to form a new government. The New Democracy Party won the biggest share of votes and its leader is pledging that Greece will honor the tough terms of the bailout it accepted from its European partners.

But as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, keeping that promise will not be easy.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, had consultation today with the leaders of the other parties and promised a new government will be in place very shortly. He reiterated his call for a government of national salvation with as many parties as possible. But Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, the leftist party that came in a close second, made clear he intends to remain in opposition. The likely coalition partners are the Socialist Party, which has alternated in power with New Democracy for the last four decades and the small democratic left party.

Nick Malkoutzis, deputy editor of Kathimerini's English language daily, says Greece is in dire need of a broad-based government. He points out that New Democracy and the Socialists are the architects of an entrenched patronage system that many single out as a major cause of the country's economic crisis.

NICK MALKOUTZIS: They had become accustomed to a system which no longer works, a system based around the public sector system, based around the exchange of favors with the private sector, with voters and that doesn't exist anymore. It can't exist anymore. And they've been caught short.

POGGIOLI: The next government faces daunting tasks. According to the bailout deal, it must announce by the end of this month another 11 billion euros in budget cuts and must fire 150,000 public servants over the next three years. This comes as Greece is in its fifth year of a recession. Unemployment is at a record high. Consumption has plummeted. Tens of thousands of businesses have shut down and tax revenues and other sources of income are drying up.

Hospitals are running out of basic goods like surgical gloves and gauze. Pharmacies are not stocking cancer and diabetes medicines and the power company is seeking funds to pay its Russian gas supplier in order to keep producing energy.

In a statement today, the likely new Prime Minister Samaras said: We're looking for new policies that would let us breathe, a clear appeal to Greece's EU partners, Germany in particular, to cut Greece some slack.

Commentator George Malouchos says Greek politician don't have the clout to renegotiate the bailout conditions.

GEORGE MALOUCHOS: They are not able to make Germans to change their mind. Germany will not help Greece. They will not change the plans. They will not give the space to the Greek government to do some things.

POGGIOLI: With Greece's large middle class fraying at the edges, editor Markoutzis says social tensions are rippling through the society.

MALKOUTZIS: So it's becoming very fractious, and there isn't really anything there to hold it together because the economic situation is deteriorating all the time. So people can't get a foothold in this crisis. They're just slipping down the ladder all the time.

POGGIOLI: Alexandros Karamalikis, a former record producer now unemployed, is worried about the rise of an ultra right-wing party, Golden Dawn. Its voting base includes many unemployed and many policemen, and its members have gone on rampages against immigrants.

ALEXANDROS KARAMALIKIS: I see more violence. I see that the Golden Dawn believes that there's no justice for them so they can do whatever they want. And that's, you know, that makes me afraid.

POGGIOLI: With 7 percent of the vote, Golden Dawn will have 18 deputies in parliament. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.

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