Euro or Drachma? Greece’s Fate Rests on Sunday’s Election
Greeks are voting Sunday, June 17, in a crucial election that many — politicians, finance ministers, bankers, heads of state, most certainly Greeks — believe will determine whether or not the country will remain in the euro zone, or exit and return to using the drachma. The latter scenario (dubbed a “Grexit” by some) has been too often spoken of in apocalyptic tones ever since Greece’s economic crisis arose five years ago.
Polling is not allowed in Greece in the two weeks leading up to an election. But “secret polls” indicate that the far-left party Syriza will lose to the conservative New Democracy party, says the New Statesman. The official word is that the two parties are in the top two places with a margin of 3 percent either way. Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal cites “Greek stock market participants” regarding the “secret polls”; Weisenthal notes that
Greek betting sites have shown also a spike in bets placed on New Democracy, and this too is seen as evidence of a shift. So traders like the stability of the pro-bailout, conservative New Democracy party over the chaos of the left-wing Syriza party, and thus at least right now are speculating that the status quo wll remain.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, is among those who have characterized Sunday’s election as a choice between the euro and the drachma. If elected, Samaras says he will accept the bailout of billions of euros Greece received from the “troika” of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank but renegotiate the terms of the deal. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, has said that his party intends for Greece to remain in the euro zone, but to reject the terms of the bailout that has led to the imposition of more and more, and harsher and harsher, austerity measures on ordinary Greeks.
The economic crisis has already surely changed the political landscape in Greece. In elections on May 6, New Democracy’s contender was the well-established Socialist Party, PASOK, which ended up receiving only some 13 percent of the vote (whereas it had received 40-something percent in previous elections). The extreme right-wing — neo-Nazi — party, the Golden Dawn (Χρυση Αυγη, Chrysi Avgi), gained enough votes to be able to hold seats in Greece’s Vouli or Parliament for the first time.
Friday saw huge rallies in Athens and throughout Greece ahead of the elections. Saturday will be quiet as no campaigning can occur ahead of polling at 7:00 am local time on Sunday.
That Sunday’s election has repercussions far beyond Greece’s borders is very apparent. The Greek publication Kathimerini reports that the German Financial Τimes Deutschland is urging Greeks to vote “yes” for Samaras and “no” for Tsipras. EU leaders are holding emergency talks out of fear that the election results could cause a Lehman Brothers-like run on banks. Bloomberg says that you can play an “interactive online game to create Greek scenarios includes a maze of 57 possible steps that all end badly, if in different ways.”
The mood throughout Greece has been, as emphasized in numerous media reports, weary, angry (in particular at the super-rich who continue to tend their yachts and not pay taxes), uncertain, fearful, definitely depressed. Unemployment is 22 percent and around 50 percent for 20-somethings, most of whom are having, or trying, to leave the country. Domestic violence against women is on the rise and violence against immigrants persists. Global businesses and investors are withdrawing operations.
Amid all this gloom there are quietly, stubbornly hopeful reports, of a new humanitarianism amid the crisis and of Greeks — including some of those young person people with degrees from foreign universities — “swimming against the tide” and choosing to stay in their country, “working hard with no money, but trying to be part of change” as Stephania Xydia says. Xydia has a BA from Cambridge University and a Master’s from London’s City University; she turned down an internship at the Barbican to work as the managing director of a cultural diplomacy NGO. Says 29-year-old Orestis Matsoukas, an entrepreneur, in the Guardian:
“At the moment, we don’t really see a light at the end of the tunnel. There should always be a light. Even during the [Nazi] occupation there was a light. During the [colonels'] dictatorship there was a light. Now there’s not. That’s why I’m staying here. To find a light.”
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