ATHENS: Greek voters cast their ballots on Sunday in the country’s first national election of the post-bailout era, with leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party expected to be ousted by the conservative opposition.
After nearly five years in power, Greece’s longest-serving crisis premier — as well as the youngest in more than a century — is battling to overcome a 10-point deficit in opinion polls amid widespread dissatisfaction after years of high taxation.
Polling stations opened at 07.00 am local time (0400 GMT) and will close at 07.00 pm with 9,903,864 Greeks having the right to vote, according to the Athens News Agency.
With three new opinion polls predicting a clear victory for the conservative New Democracy party, Tsipras called for supporters to mobilise, hoping for a turn around.
“Today we are fighting this battle from the first to the last minute. With optimism and determination. The ballots are empty and all possibilities are open,” he tweeted on Sunday.
The polls have consistently forecast that New Democracy headed by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a former banker and scion of a leading Greek political family, will win an absolute majority in Sunday’s legislative elections.
“I hope that from tomorrow we will be able to breathe with relief. To take a deep breath. If Mitsotakis will do what he promises,” Athinodoros, a 48-year-old self-employed worker voting in the southern Athens’ suburb of Nea Smyrni told AFP on Sunday.
Others were less optimistic.
Alkmini, a 39-year-old employee in the private sector voting in Neos Kosmos, a neighborhood near the centre of Athens, expects “no change for the better”.
“On the contrary, if New Democracy wins, I’m afraid that labour rights will get worse”, she told AFP.
Tsipras has accused Mitsotakis — who was part of a 2012-2014 crisis government — of “disastrous” mismanagement that brought hundreds of thousands of job losses and business failures.
According to the latest polls, New Democracy is expected to gain between 151 to 165 seats in the 300-seat parliament. Syriza meanwhile is forecast to fall from 144 seats to between 70 and 82.
Tsipras called the snap election in June after losing both European and local elections to Mitsotakis’ New Democracy in the space of two weeks.
– Greece’s next PM? –
The man tipped be Greece’s next prime minister is a 51-year-old Harvard graduate and former McKinsey consultant with controversial civil service job cuts on his resume.
Mitsotakis, who took over New Democracy three years ago, has pledged to create “better” jobs through growth, foreign investment and tax cuts and to “steamroll” obstacles to business.
Tsipras, on the other hand, touts his party’s track record in reducing unemployment and raising the minimum wage for the first time since 2012.
His government also rolled out a batch of last-minute tax cuts in May.
But Tsipras has been widely criticised for campaigning as an anti-austerity crusader before eventually accepting a third EU bailout.
Christos Maravlis, who cast his ballot for the once-radical leftists in 2015, says many voters will be seeking to “punish Syriza for betraying the Greek people” with false promises.
– Voting in the heat –
The vote is be Greece’s third poll in as many months, and the country’s first mid-summer general election since 1928 is unlikely to set participation records.
In May, fewer than 59 percent of registered voters cast ballots for European Parliament polls and the first round of local and regional elections. Participation fell below 42 percent for the second round a week later.
With temperatures forecast to go as high as 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, all parties dread the impact the heat will have on turnout.
Fans were working hard to cool off polling stations as voters lined up to cast their ballots.
The front page of the Proto Thema newspaper on Saturday showed a cartoon of a man catching some summer sun on an inflatable mattress.
“Enjoy your vacations and let others decide if you will be able to go on vacation again,” the front page joked.
Syriza’s number of seats in the next parliament is expected to depend on how many of the smaller parties secure at least three percent of the vote, the minimum required to enter parliament.
Two new arrivals are the MeRA25 anti-austerity party of Tsipras’s former maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, and Greek Solution, a nationalist, pro-Russia party formed by former journalist and TV salesman Kyriakos Velopoulos.
Polls show that each new party could win between nine and 10 MPs.
Greek Solution has been buoyed by backlash against Tsipras’ controversial agreement with North Macedonia that ended a bitter 27-year dispute over the country’s name.
The fledgling party has also picked up voters from neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which is in steep decline amid an ongoing trial for the 2013 murder of an anti-fascist rapper, allegedly carried out with the knowledge of senior Golden Dawn members.