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Page last updated at 23:17 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 00:17 UK

Greeks despair of election choices

By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

A Greek state television technician prepares Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, right, for a televised debate against Socialist leader George Papandreou in Athens, Greece, 21 September 2009.
The poll sees conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis (right) facing off against socialist leader George Papandreou (left)

As the last of his vines was harvested, winemaker Alexandros Megapanos sampled a saviatano grape from which the ancient Greeks used to fashion retsina.

"Very good," he said. "It's been an excellent year."

And then Mr Megapanos turned his attention to Sunday's snap election, when conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his ruling New Democracy party are widely expected to be drummed out of office after five-and-a-half years in power.

"I'm absolutely in despair because I cannot see any future," said Mr Megapanos.

He is among 85% of Greeks who, according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out by the European Commission's statistical service, have no trust in the country's political parties.

The votes of such disillusioned voters will be pivotal in determining the composition of Greece's parliamentary chamber.

"I would vote eventually for the Greens, in order not to have a government of Pasok or New Democracy," he said.

Nepotism and patronage

The last opinion polls, published two weeks ago, before a ban came into force, gave Pasok (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, the main opposition party) a 6% lead over the conservative New Democracy.

Today, Karamanlis, or Papandreou or even Jesus Christ cannot change anything because it is the system that governs
Alexandros Megapanos

The main uncertainty is whether Pasok - which is led by George Papandreou, Greece's former foreign minister and the son of Andreas, the party's charismatic founder - will attract sufficient support to win more than 151 of parliament's 300 seats.

Pasok is advocating a "green" economy and is vowing to make Greece a world leader in solar, wind and geo-thermal energy.

But millions of Greeks have distaste for a party that, apart from one brief hiccup, governed almost uninterrupted for a generation and was considered by many to be a byword for nepotism and patronage.

Pasok could be denied an absolute majority and forced to consider a coalition if the Ecological Greens stage a late surge and obtain 3% of the national vote, which is the threshold for entering parliament.

Transparency first

"Today, Karamanlis, or Papandreou or even Jesus Christ cannot change anything because it is the system that governs," said Mr Megapanos, sitting on a veranda next to his vineyard.

Costas Karamanlis on 27 August
Karamanlis has been haemorrhaging support in recent polls

Aware that nine out of 10 Greeks believe corruption is a major concern, Mr Papandreou has pledged to make transparency his "number one priority".

"People have to believe in government again," he said. "Government can be clean."

The alleged involvement of several cabinet ministers in a number of scandals have contributed to the plummeting fortunes of Mr Karamanlis.

He swept into the prime minister's mansion in March 2004 promising a scrupulous administration, but has been forced to admit that corruption is "an endemic phenomenon of our society".

The socialists claim they will use money clawed back from tax evasion to part fund a 3bn euro stimulus package aimed at helping the poor and boosting the ailing Greek economy, which is expected to enter recession later this year.

Mr Karamanlis has accused his rival of "promising everything to everyone", and described it as a "very irresponsible policy".

Disingenuous rhetoric?

In October, the new Greek government is due to tell the European Union how it plans to reduce its excessive public debt.

As part of the eurozone, Greece is required to cut its deficit to 3% of GDP by 2010. Athens is expected to ask for extra time to meet the target.

Rioters battle police in January
There has been social unrest since police shot a teenager last December

The conservatives are warning that the country faces two tough years of belt tightening and is urging Greeks to follow the path of austerity and "responsibility".

Nikos Kostandaros, managing editor of the broadsheet newspaper Kathimerini, believes Mr Karamanlis' rhetoric is disingenuous.

"When he speaks about being tough and austere he's been saying that for five years and doing the exact opposite because all the deficits went wildly out of control," said Mr Kostandaros. "Why talk tough when you act soft?"

But abstinence and thrift have never been popular vote-winners in Greece. Victorious parties achieved success by promising to increase public spending.

The Conservatives have also leached support to the right-wing LAOS party, which has capitalized on widespread concern about burgeoning illegal immigration and opposes Turkey's membership of the European Union.

Articulation of anger

Mr Karamanlis' likely demise does not bring any satisfaction to Fivos Gouzios, a 24-year-old left wing political activist who was among thousands of young demonstrators on the streets of Athens last December in Greece's worst civil unrest for decades.

The riots began as spontaneous demonstrations against the alleged murder of 15-year-old Alexi Grigoropoulos, who was shot dead by a police guard.

The protests morphed into an articulation of anger at economic hardship and a lack of meritocratic opportunities for young people.

"Even before December there was no real alternative to the politics of Greece," said Mr Gouzios.



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