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Greece heads into topsy-turvy elections centered on economy, scandal

The ruling conservatives are telling voters to stick with them because the economy's ticking, while the left points to the “Greek Watergate” scandal and warns democracy is under attack.

(CN) — Greeks go to the polls on Sunday in an election that pits a ruling conservative party claiming it's taking depression-hit Greece toward prosperity against a fractured opposition on the left warning Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is turning the country into an authoritarian state in the service of oligarchs.

Mitsotakis, a Harvard-educated scion of a prominent Greek right-wing political family, has managed to stay ahead in the polls despite a scandal, dubbed “Greece's Watergate,” about government spying of opposition figures and journalists and widespread anger over a catastrophic train crash in February that killed 57 people.

Sunday's election, though, looks set to be inconclusive because frictions between the leading parties likely will make it impossible for a coalition to form a majority in parliament.

A second election – using a different election system that gives the winner extra parliamentary seats – is therefore expected to take place in early July with Mitsotakis' New Democracy forecast to get possibly enough votes to form a government without the need of support from another party.

Polls for Sunday's vote show New Democracy likely to get more than 35% of the ballots and left-wing Syriza, led by former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is projected to come in second with about 30%.

Tsipras has relentlessly attacked Mitsotakis and accused him of overseeing an illegal domestic spying campaign, carrying out economic policies that benefit the rich, unleashing harsh policies against asylum seekers including the building of a wall along the border with Turkey and abandoning refugees at sea, and turning Greece into an authoritarian state.

Mitsotakis has hit back with a message telling Greeks that reverting back to a Syriza-led government would lead Greece back into its recent past of economic depression and political chaos. Mitsotakis has been buoyed by growing confidence in Greece's economy with unemployment dropping, foreign investment picking up and economic growth expected to outpace the EU's as a whole.

Syriza came into power in 2015 in the midst of Greece's catastrophic debt crisis on pledges to fight against European Union demands to cut the public spending or not receive an economic bailout. Greece's economy was under immense strain following the 2007-2008 global financial collapse and was on the brink of abandoning the euro currency.

Greece suffered one of the worst economic depressions ever experienced by a Western state with unemployment soaring from 7.8% in 2008 to more than 23% in 2016. It was hit by dramatic levels of poverty, emigration, bankruptcies and declines in public services.

Once in office, though, Syriza disappointed many supporters by going along with crippling economic bailout plans imposed by the so-called “troika,” the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Despite high levels of support, the party continues to face criticism for its time in office. New Democracy took over in 2019.

Meanwhile, Pasok, Greece's traditional center-left stalwart, is projected to pick up about 10% of the vote and potentially play kingmaker in coalition talks. But a coalition with New Democracy seems very unlikely after Mitsotakis admitted Greece's intelligence service, the EYP, put Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis under surveillance. Collaboration between Pasok and Syriza is much more possible, but so far the two parties have not said they are willing to share power.

Pasok's support collapsed after it was blamed for helping cause Greece's catastrophic economic crisis. After democracy was restored in 1974 following a military dictatorship, Pasok and New Democracy dominated Greek politics.

Also expected to pick up seats in parliament are two radical left parties – the Communist Party and the European Realistic Disobedience Front, led by former Syriza finance minister and popular anti-capitalist intellectual Yanis Varoufakis. A far-right party, Greek Solution, is likely to get enough votes to gain seats in parliament too.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

Follow @https://twitter.com/cainburdeau
Categories / Government, International, Politics

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