The last stand of Greece's ruling elite

As Greece prepares to vote tomorrow, the ruling New Democracy party is fighting back with claims that a win for poll-leaders Syriza will drag the country back to the past

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The Independent Online

As the campaigning for Greece's parliamentary elections enters its final hours ahead of the vote tomorrow, the last shots are being fired across the bows.

Last night, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of the ruling New Democracy party – behind the upstart radical-left Syriza party in the polls – made his last stand at the party’s final campaign rally with a plea to resist the advances of the would-be victors.


In the Athens seaside suburb of Palaio Faliro, party officials were welcomed by cheering crowds in a former Olympic stadium, youth groups building up the atmosphere by waving Greek flags, beating drums, singing slogans and setting orange flares off in anticipation of the arrival of the embattled Mr Samaras.

He declared that he would not allow Syriza and its leader, Alexis Tsipras – more than 20 years his junior – to take Greece “back to the past” with its anti-austerity platform and threats to renegotiate a European bailout on Greece’s debts, after his party had worked to keep the country “standing”.

Alexis Tsipras, head of the Syriza left-wing main opposition party (AP)

In trying to rectify the Greek financial mess, New Democracy has seen the country take massive sums in international bailouts and put into practice the stringent austerity measures that came with them. It is these measures that appear to have ensured that many voters will look for a new direction with Syriza, who are leading by between 4 and 6 percentage points in most polls.

Party officials are now banking on the undecided vote to overturn New Democracy’s poor prognostics. At current estimates between 8 and 10 per cent of voters are still unsure.

“I do believe we’ll be able to convince the undecided and win the election: things can change in an instant and when Greeks wake up on Sunday and go to the ballot they will think hard of their future,” New Democracy candidate Vasileios Foivos Axiotis told The Independent.

After a seven-year recession and widespread unemployment, Greece’s economy is finally starting to show feeble signs of recovery. Pointing to conservative New Democracy’s electoral pledges, Mr Axiotis, a civil engineer who owns two large companies in construction and renewable energy says: “Syriza has nothing to offer Greece or the business world.”

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for unity – saying that Greece should remain part of the “story” of the eurozone, with a potential Syriza win raising fears for Greece’s future in the bloc. “I want Greece, despite the difficulties, to remain part of our story,” she said.

Europe’s fears were not eased by Mr Tsipras yesterday, who insisted that his party, if it won, would have until the summer to conduct a review of the bailout, despite the agreement with the EU set to end on 28 February. Eurozone officials have said that Greece would likely need to seek an extension beyond then.

Workers put up signs that indicate the polling stations in a school (EPA)

Lawyer Pavlos Marinakis, 26, sees New Democracy as a party of stability which would protect the country’s place in the eurozone. Syriza’s anti-bailout agreement has spooked markets and European officials. In spite of its unwavering austerity policies, its supporters say New Democracy has adopted a “reasonable” position by aiming to repay the country’s debts.

“I’ll support New Democracy because all my efforts and sacrifices need to lead to results… I need stability and to know what will come next but there will be no security for our future with Mr Tsipras – he just makes empty promises about everything to everyone.”

Mr Marinakis echoes the voices of those voters who fear the repercussions of the anti-austerity rhetoric of the left wing Syriza party. In a speech on Thursday night, Mr Tsipras warned thousands of supporters of looming “major clashes” as his party would seek easing of the country’s huge and “unsustainable” debts. Despite their support, Syriza’s anti-austerity measures have some Greeks worrying about the country’s fate, especially when it comes to negotiating with its international lenders.

Greece is scheduled to repay billions of euros this year. New Democracy’s campaign has also focused on dissuading voters from backing its left wing opponent. “Greeks think that bankruptcy is what they are living now, but bankruptcy is when fuel, raw materials and medical imports cease immediately, like what we’ve seen in Cyprus, Venezuela and Argentina,” New Democracy candidate Sophie Voultepsi said yesterday.

Withdrawals from banks have significantly escalated in recent days though nowhere near the capital flight ahead of the 2012 election. “Right now it’s the doom and gloom scenario,” says finance professional Michail Kougioulis. He said his vote is split between New Democracy and a newly created pro-European party, To Potami, or River, who are third in the polls and could act as kingmaker if neither of the other the two can claim a majority.

“We’re six months ahead of a likely and gradual rebounding of the economy but we’re stepping back six months, with the risk of going back entire generations [with a Syriza win].”