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Greeks vote in potentially fateful election

June 17, 2012 |  7:59 am

Greek election
ATHENS — With the world closely watching, Greeks were voting Sunday in a momentous election that could imperil the country’s future in the Eurozone and unravel the single-currency system altogether.

The repeat trip to the ballot box, after inconclusive polls last month, come as Europe’s debt crisis dangerously deepened last week, engulfing Spain, the Eurozone's fourth-biggest economy.

A rash of opinion polls show Antonis Samaras and his conservative New Democracy party poised to win Greece's highly polarized race, but only by a whisker against Alexis Tsipras and his radical-left Syriza party, which promises to repeal the harsh austerity plans to which Athens agreed in exchange for multi-billion-dollar rescue loans.

The same polls suggest that support for the socialist PASOK party of Evangelos Venizelos, which signed Greece up to the austerity measures, may plummet to historic lows.

Whether either New Democracy or Syriza can win enough seats to form a government on its own, however, is in doubt. Another messy electoral result could take weeks to untangle, prolonging political instability and spooking international investors with the prospect of a third trip to the ballot box — if Greece's international creditors don't cut off the flow of loans to Athens first.

On Sunday, a campaign marked by dire warnings of a potential Greek exit from the Eurozone seemed to be pushing some voters back to their traditional political allegiances, despite their continued lack of faith in the country’s corruption-tainted political elite.

"I voted for a protest party the first time around," said Vicky Argyropoulou, a middle-aged volunteer worker. "This time I went back to one of the two main parties, casting a vote in their favor and then feeling like I wanted to chop my hand off."

Locked out of international markets, Greece has relied almost exclusively on foreign credit since its European peers and the International Monetary Fund cast Athens its first lifeline of about $150 billion in May 2010. A deepening recession and the need for a second $170-billion bailout, plus a massive debt-restructuring deal that shaved off about a third of the country’s near $500-billion debt, forced socialists and conservatives into a fractious coalition last November. A devastating default was averted.

But added tax hikes and spending cuts angered a nation already reeling from two years of austerity. Greece now has one of the fastest-shrinking economies in the European Union.  


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Photo: Alexis Tsipras, leader of the left-wing Syriza party, casts his ballot in Greece's election Sunday. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg