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'Apathy and indifference': Greece's disillusioned voters

John Hadoulis with Vassilis Kyriakoulis in Thessaloniki
20 May 2023, MVT 18:31
Greek Prime Minister and leader of the conservative New Democracy party Kyriakos Mitsotakis gestures as he addresses a speech to his party's supporters during his last pre-election rally ahead of Greece's general elections planned for May 21, with the Acropolis hill in the background, in Athens on May 19, 2023. -- Photo: Aris Messinis / AFP
John Hadoulis with Vassilis Kyriakoulis in Thessaloniki
20 May 2023, MVT 18:31

Greek elections have a reputation of being raucous affairs, with loud arguments at taverns or street protests -- but the vibe is muted ahead of Sunday's polls, as voters doubt the main parties' ability to lift their economic woes.

Outgoing conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of New Democracy and his Syriza party rival, leftist Alexis Tsipras, are vying for power in the country's most uncertain general election in a decade.

"Our lives will not change the next day, whoever wins," said Nikos Kalaitzidis, 32, who works at a gas station in Thessaloniki, the country's second largest city.

For Chrysa Papadimitriou, 43, there was just "apathy and indifference among most voters this time".

"You don't hear political discussions like in the past and most people avoid talking openly about who they will vote for," she said.

With the abstention rate already at 42 percent in the 2019 election, analysts have warned that the number of people who skip the polls may increase this time given the apparent lack of interest.

And the high chance that Sunday's polls will be inconclusive and require a second round because of new electoral rules, mean some may sit out the ballot given it seems unlikely to be the determining vote.

Any second round is likely to take place in July.

Supporters of the left wing party MERA25 gather during the party's main election campaign rally in Athens on May 19, 2023, ahead of the general elections in Athens scheduled for May 21. -- Photo: Spyros Bakalis / AFP

Noting the likelihood that a possible second ballot could boost abstention, the centre-right daily Ta Nea warned voters not to let that happen.

"Anyone who fails to vote does not have the right to an opinion on how the parties are serving their public role," it said.

But optician shop owner Vassilis Kalyvas said that the feeling that little will change was at the root of the disinterest.

"Going by the conversations with people, they are disillusioned with both major parties," the 55-year-old told AFP from Greece's third largest city Patras.

"Greeks have no way out at the moment," he said. "I want a government that claims and supports the interests of the people and helps the economy grow. From what I see, this is not the case."

Empty promises?

Stavroula, 31, giving only her first name, said she will not make the trip to her hometown of Peloponnese to cast her vote.

"What's the point? The politicians coax us with promises that they won't meet," she said in Athens, accusing both Mitsotakis and Tsipras of doing "nothing to improve the situation of the most precarious".

Retiree Matina Vassiliadou, 69, said that "our lives have become very difficult because of inflation.

"This is what worries me the most. Our pensions have dwindled over the years," she said, adding that what she is drawing monthly was insufficient to pay for bills, food and medication.

"What we hear on TV about increases in pensions is a joke," she charged.

The level of apathy could even be higher among Greece's first-time voters, who number 440,000 and make up eight percent of the electorate.

Only one in four people aged 17-24 voted in the last election in 2019, said Maria Karaklioumi, a political analyst for polling company RASS.

High-school student Nefeli Zouganeli, 16, admitted that most of her classmates are fed up with the main parties and will likely skip the vote or pick one of the dozens of small parties with little hopes of making it to parliament.

But Tsipras has touted salary hikes -- including a higher minimum wage pegged to inflation -- among his election promises.

And Mitsotakis has argued that his last four years have laid the foundations of economic stability that Greece can build on.

At rallies, the Harvard graduate underlined that he has delivered on his previous promises to bring steady growth, tax cuts and tougher immigration rules.

He also shrugged off the lack of apparent excitement over this year's vote, saying that "de-dramatisation of politics is also progress for the country".

"We don't need to be in a state of terrible tension all the time and think that politics has to be a battle for survival," he said.

© Agence France-Presse

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