Greeks Vote In Election Dominated By Economic Fears
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Greece could make history today. Voters in the parliamentary elections there could vote in Europe's first political party that is all about ending austerity measures. The party says the deep spending cuts that international lenders are imposing in exchange for billions in bailout loans have destroyed the Greek economy. Joanna Kakissis joins us now from Athens for more. So, Joanna, what's the mood like among voters today?
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Well, the mood's actually pretty subdued. Voters are anxious, and they're confused. And they're not sure what's going to happen. The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that austerity is just not working in Greece. The country is still deeply in debt. The unemployment rate is still at more than 25 percent, and that's astonishing. And this promise that we're turning a coroner keeps getting broken. So Greeks are ready to try something new.
MARTIN: So this political party is called Syriza. If they are brought into power, clearly there's some kind of indication that Greeks believe this party can really change things. Can they?
KAKISSIS: Well, I'm not sure anyone but the true believers - the leftist intellectuals who have been part of this party for years - think Syriza is going to save Greece in one fell swoop. Some pundits sympathetic to Syriza have framed this contest, this vote today as a contest between hope and fear. But that's a pretty simplistic view.
You know, Greeks are savvy enough to understand that Syriza is an inexperienced, untested party that's never governed before. It's going to make mistakes. They also know that this party is best known for protesting the system and not creating one. So some are still worried that Syriza's economic policies might actually lead to a euro zone exit for the country. That's scaring a lot of people still. But they're willing to give this party a chance because it's something new, something uncorrupted and because the policies of the previous governments have failed so dramatically to improve the economy.
MARTIN: So they're gaining traction just because they're so different? I mean, what happened to Greece's mainstream political parties in all this?
KAKISSIS: You know, the two main political parties are New Democracy, and that's the conservative party about going Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and PASOK, a center-left party. Voters are blaming them for creating the debt crisis and then selling out the country's sovereignty to foreign lenders, who then squeeze the economy dry. So those parties are pretty much over. I mean, their credibility is so damaged with Greeks right now. Now, there are more than 20 parties running in Greece today; a country of just 10 million people.
MARTIN: So if this party, Syriza, is elected into government and they're able to roll back all these austerity measures, does that mean, Joanna, that then Greece ends up defaulting on all of these international loans?
KAKISSIS: Well, you know, that's still - that answer is still unclear because Alexis Tsipras, he's the leader of Syriza, he's actually dodged that question. He won't say whether he's willing to do that, to default in exchange for standing up to foreign lenders on austerity measures. But what he has said is that he insists that the economy must grow so Greece can actually stop being what he calls a debt colony so it can actually have money to pay back its loans.
The Europeans have been warming up to Tsipras since the European elections last year when Syriza did very well. And they keep saying that Greece is no longer the imminent threat to the Euro zone that it once was. But, you know, a euro zone exit would still be very messy for the monetary union. And now there's another anti-austerity party, Podemos, in Spain, and they're arising. And so that's apparently concerning Brussels, the leaders in Brussels and Berlin that the euro zone will also face a political crisis if Syriza is elected.
MARTIN: Reporter Joanna Kakissis talking to us from Athens. Thanks so much, Joanna.
KAKISSIS: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.