Ballot-weary Greeks vote in closely fought election

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates with supporters after his party's victory in the Greek general elections at his campaign headquarters in Athens on Sept 20, 2015.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates with supporters after his party's victory in the Greek general elections at his campaign headquarters in Athens on Sept 20, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS • Greek leftist Alexis Tsipras made a last call yesterday for weary voters to return him to power in a closely fought election - the third one this year - after a tumultuous year that saw him cave in to European demands for austerity to keep the country afloat.

Both Mr Tsipras and his conservative rival Vangelis Meimarakis, vying to take on the daunting task of steering the country through a refugee crisis as well as painful economic reforms, called for a high turnout as they cast their ballots in an election polls suggest is too close to call.

It is the third time Greeks are voting this year, after an election that catapulted Mr Tsipras to power and a referendum in which voters backed him to spurn the terms of a European bailout - only for him to agree to it anyway.

With voters now exhausted and the major parties effectively in agreement about the bailout, there were signs that turnout might be comparatively light, which could help the Conservatives.

Around five hours after voting started, the turnout was still at a pace that appeared lower than in recent elections. One polling station in an Athens suburb recorded only 25 voters in the first three hours, broadcaster ERT said.

Polling is scheduled to end at 1600 GMT (midnight Singapore time), followed by an exit poll and with an early vote projection expected by 1800 GMT.

Mr Tsipras was voted into office in January promising to halt austerity measures imposed by Europe, which most Greeks blame for worsening one of the deepest depressions of any industrialised country in modern times.

After banks were shut for weeks and the country pushed to the wall, he effectively reversed himself last month to accept the bailout, splitting his leftist coalition and forcing him to resign and call a new vote.

He argues that his tough negotiations with Europeans softened the blow of austerity and helped secure a promise of debt restructuring.

His opponents say his erratic leadership and grandstanding only deepened the economic crisis and obliterated a nascent recovery.

Final polls last Friday showed Mr Tsipras' Syriza party running neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy party of Mr Meimarakis. The winner will oversee the deep economic reforms required under the €86 billion (S$136 billion) bailout that Mr Tsipras was forced to broker last month with Athens' euro zone partners.

Many voters sounded disillusioned with politics.

"What we are hoping for is for the less useless (politician) so he does the least damage to Greece," said 77-year-old Yiannis outside a polling station in Athens.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2015, with the headline 'Ballot-weary Greeks vote in closely fought election'. Print Edition | Subscribe