'Alexis betrayed us': Young Greeks turn their backs on Syriza as election looms

A man hangs a poster of former Prime Minister and President of Syriza party Alexis Tsipras, on a traffic light, in Athens, Greece, on Sept 4, 2015.
A man hangs a poster of former Prime Minister and President of Syriza party Alexis Tsipras, on a traffic light, in Athens, Greece, on Sept 4, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece's radical-left Syriza party channelled the anger and hope of a generation when it swept to power in January - but winning young voters over again in Sunday's elections will not be so easy.

In Exarchia, a bohemian Athens neighbourhood beloved by students and anarchists, any mention of Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras prompts either a resigned sigh or an expletive.

Young people have been hit disproportionately hard by six years of financial crisis in Greece; nearly half are unemployed.

Syriza's pre-election promise to stand up to Athens' creditors and end austerity was music to the ears of the twenty-somethings who have been labelled Greece's "lost generation".

With its blunt-talking, casually dressed ministers, Syriza itself seemed to embody a youthful new defiance. Tsipras, inaugurated at 40, was the youngest prime minister in 150 years.

Then came his spectacular U-turn in July, when he agreed to sweeping new tax rises and spending cuts in exchange for a new international bailout worth 86 billion euros (S$151.7 billion).

He resigned last month, triggering the early elections, after suffering a major party rebellion over the rescue deal.

It is difficult to find anyone in Exarchia, where the graffitied walls are sprinkled with anarchist symbols, who plans to put their faith in Syriza again when Greece votes on Sunday.

"Alexis betrayed us," said Spiros, a 25-year-old drama student, as he sat smoking and drinking coffee with friends - all of whom voted for Syriza in January.

Bitterly disappointed by the party and unimpressed by any of the alternatives, this group is considering not voting at all, like many others in this neighbourhood.

"I voted for a leftist government. I wanted to stay in Europe, but one with good rules," said Alex, 30. "Syriza has done everything it said it wouldn't."

Two weeks ago, Syriza's own youth wing announced that it could no longer support the party in the elections. More than half of the young activists quit the committee, issuing a blistering statement titled "The Bankruptcy of Syriza".

Among young Greeks in general, a recent poll published by the Ethnos newspaper showed that just 18.6 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds plan to back Syriza - a huge drop from January, when more than 30 percent in the equivalent age group supported the party.

"In January, Syriza represented youth, hope and change," said Manos Papazoglou, a political scientist at the University of the Peloponnese. "But they have lost this image very quickly. It's very rare in Europe to see a party lose its political capital like this so fast."

oung supporters seemed thin on the ground at an election rally in Athens earlier this month.

Waiting to hear Mr Tsipras speak, 19-year-old Antonios Kaisaris, one of only a couple of dozen activists still left in Syriza Youth, said the government needed more time to show what it can do.

"We are staying to fight for Syriza," the Athens University student said, insisting that the party could renegotiate the terms of the bailout and Greece's huge mountain of debt if it is voted back in.

"We don't want the right wing to come back for another four years. And just because we lost the battle, it doesn't mean we won't win the war."

Analysts say that with around 15 per cent of voters still undecided, this election is still wide open. Among 18 to 34-year-olds, seven per cent plan to abstain and another 14 per cent are still undecided, according to the Ethnos poll.

"In the coming days we could see very dramatic changes," Mr Papazoglou said.

Of the youths still planning to back Syriza, many say resignedly that the party is the best of several bad options.

Many of those who voted Syriza into power see a return of the conservative New Democracy party, currently neck-and-neck with Syriza in the polls, as an unappealing prospect.

New Democracy and the socialist Pasok ruled alternately for much of the past four decades, and Syriza's rise was widely seen as a break with a political elite regarded as corrupt, beholden to powerful interests and responsible for Greece's current crisis.

"We had governments run by New Democracy and Pasok for 40 years, and they are responsible for what the Greek people are going through now," said Haris, a German teacher who is wearily planning to vote for Syriza again.

"Syriza has had no time to run the country with all the negotiations. And at least Tsipras hasn't stolen one single euro from the Greek people."