By the time this goes to press, Greece will be less than 24 hours away from the second round of elections on May 25th. Up for grabs are positions in Greece’s 325 municipalities in 13 regions.
Elections in Greece are held in two rounds. This is to filter out the winner by a clean majority of over 50% of the votes. So in the first round, the leading two candidates are selected to go through to the next, where the public must then decide between those two candidates for an overall winner.
This being the birthplace of democracy, voting in elections is obligatory and technically to abstain from voting is illegal, though in recent years with voter turnout falling continuously amongst a disillusioned public, the penalty for not voting is rarely if ever meted out.
These particular elections are important for three reasons. First, Greece is currently holds the EU presidency. The result of this Sunday’s elections will paint a clearer picture of where the Greek public’s political loyalties have swayed – left, right or none of the above. This in turn will give the rest of Europe much food for thought on what happens next in the current chapter of Greece’s long history. Will the Grexit come to pass if the left-wing Syriza come out tops, or will their non-EU rhetoric turn out to be more hot air?
Secondly, Greece has this year made its much celebrated return to the international bond market. The fact that Greek government bonds are once again in circulation has been cited by some as proof that the country is well on the road to recovery.
But how much of that is true? When the economy has shrunk some 23% since the start of the crisis, youth unemployment is still sky-high and the small bond holders who lost their entire life savings during the 70% haircut in 2012 are committing suicide out of their despair (17 and counting) there doesn’t feel like there’s much to celebrate on the ground.
After initial success, Greek bond yields have started rising again. Antonios Samaras’ New Democracy government needs a strong outcome on Sunday in order to maintain the kind of politically stable image (and it usually is just an image) that bond holders love. In light of these desperately tiny shows of economic development, Greece cannot afford another government bond failure which would most likely obliterate investor trust once and for all. Greece’s junk status credit rating is not exactly something to be dancing in the streets about.
Thirdly and finally, the elections on Sunday will bring under the spotlight the Europe-wide wave of the far right’s rise to power. When a neo Nazi party like Golden Dawn can put forward a candidate for the most important municipal position in Greece, the mayor of Athens, and land 11% of the votes, it’s not to be taken lightly. The party’s candidate came fourth, thankfully putting him out of the running for the second round.
The fact that he was in the top 5 at all speaks volumes about the growing power of Golden Dawn, a party that was treated as a joke just 5 or 6 years ago. In Kolonaki, one of downtown Athens’ most affluent suburbs, the extreme right party raked in 16% of the votes. The place where did they worst was Crete, gaining just 2-3% of overall votes and saying a lot about the Cretans and their extremely low tolerance for stupidity.
Athens proper aside, Golden Dawn has managed to get to the second round in various municipalities across the country. All this despite the party’s leaders currently sitting in jail pending investigation into their illegal activities, and despite the public outrage when party members stabbed left wing rapper Pavlos Fyssas to death last year.
When the Yorkshire Ripper started picking victims that were not prostitutes, the police and the media of the UK referred to these victims as innocent, as if the other women he had previously killed were not.
I was reminded of this when the stabbing took place. Golden Dawn have attacked and killed hundreds of illegal immigrants in Greece, and they do so with near absolute impunity. When they made the mistake of killing a Greek, an ‘innocent’, there was finally a public outcry and their popularity briefly dipped.
This is perhaps the most depressing outcome of the debt crisis that has swept the continent. On Sunday, in Greece and beyond, Europeans will be voting in their representatives for the European parliament as well. Let’s hope they pick wisely.
Omaira Gill is a freelance journalist based in Athens
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