Fledgling Government Awaits Greek Voters' Verdict After six months of tough economic times, Greek voters cast ballots Sunday in local elections seen as a referendum on the socialist government's draconian austerity measures.
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Fledgling Government Awaits Greek Voters' Verdict

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Fledgling Government Awaits Greek Voters' Verdict

Fledgling Government Awaits Greek Voters' Verdict

Fledgling Government Awaits Greek Voters' Verdict

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131138919/131138890" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The Greek election comes after a wave of mail bombs sent by anarchists that some analysts say was meant to fuel anti-government voting. Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

The Greek election comes after a wave of mail bombs sent by anarchists that some analysts say was meant to fuel anti-government voting.

Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

After six months of tough economic times, Greek voters cast ballots Sunday in local elections seen as a referendum on the socialist government's draconian austerity measures.

Public sector wages and pensions have been cut 15 percent to 20 percent. Over the past half-year, this was met with a wave of strikes and near-daily protests.

One of the latest was by firefighters on temporary contracts demanding job security. The atmosphere turned tense in downtown Athens when there was a loud, explosive sound, perhaps a firecracker going off. Police in full riot gear deployed as protesters vented their anger. Cardboard coffins with photos of firefighters who died on the job lay in the street.

With protesters shouting behind him, 32-year-old Gregory Zakas explained that firefighters receive benefits only for the short periods they work each year.

"We are trying to work for 12 months," he said, "Some guys here are 17, 18 years in this situation."

Zakas and the other firefighters are supporters of the ruling socialist party, Pasok, but their union has ordered them not to vote as an act of protest.

Traditional Greek music played at another rally, for the mayor of Athens, by the opposition New Democracy Party. Young volunteer Cupidus Sotirios said he strongly opposes the government's austerity measures.

"I think they are unfair for people. Greeks don't have the culture to adopt [such] hard measures," even to save the economy, he says.

Change Few Want To Believe In

The sharp spending cuts were imposed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in exchange for a $155 billion bailout. Gikas Hardouvelis, chief economist at Eurobank, says critics of the rescue-loan deal don't have valid counterproposals.

"You either follow the memorandum of understanding and do the structural reforms," he says, "or, if you don't, you're going to be kicked out from the EU and you're going to go back to [the] living standards of [the] 1950s and '60s. This is the alternative."

In Greece, there is a widespread attitude that the state owes everything to citizens and that citizens have no obligations to the state.

Maria Karaklioumi, a spokeswoman for Pasok, says the crisis presents a major opportunity to modernize Greek society. "It's a chance to change Greece and build another society," she says. "We have to re-establish the relationship between the citizen and the state."

A major requirement imposed by the EU is for Greece to curb rampant tax evasion -- an estimated one-third of Greek taxpayers do not declare their income. But Hardouvelis says public sector workers have not yet seen any signs of a crackdown on the wealthy.

"All these people in about a year will turn around and look at government and say, 'Now, is it fair? Have you done your job, too? I contributed, I saw my pension -- my salary -- being frozen, being cut. Have you managed to grab tax evasion?' " says Hardouvelis. "They will demand efficiency from the government."