Jobs, tax cuts are key issues as voters head to polls in Greece

World Today

Voters in Greece head to the polls for a general election on Sunday – their sixth since the 2008 financial crisis. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party will face voters for the first time since suffering a huge defeat in May’s European elections. Opinion polls indicate the conservative New Democracy party are likely to emerge on top Sunday.  CGTN’s Filio Kontrafouri has more from Athens.

She’s young, talented and educated, yet 24-year-old Chara Makri has been unable to find a job as a journalist since receiving her degree four years ago. She’s had several unpaid internships and sent out dozens of resumes, but has only been able to make ends meet by working as a waitress.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Makri said. “I don’t know if I should stay in Greece or leave. I love my country so much that I don’t want to leave. But my country is pushing me to leave and go to another country, because there I’m sure I’ll find a job as a journalist.”

Nearly 40% of young Greeks were unemployed in 2018. Overall unemployment remains the highest in Europe. Capital controls restricting the free movement of money remain in place for a fourth year. One in three Greeks work part-time, earning less than 400 euros, or roughly $450 a month.

Heavy taxation has brought the middle class to its knees. Velisaria Roka sells her handbags at half-price and still finds few buyers.

“The middle class has vanished,” Roka said. “Too many people were left without a job. People are suffering, they are on the border of poverty. At least on a retail level, they do not buy anything. The just eat a souvlaki, drink some wine and say thank God.”

Starting in 2010, Greece accepted three bailouts to avoid bankruptcy and crashing out of the Eurozone. The ruling Syriza party came to power opposing austerity, and then embraced it. Greece exited its last bailout program one year ago. What Greeks now expect from their next government is to start undoing some of the insufferable damage done to the country and to their lives in the last nine years.

Prime Minister Tsipras said his government ended Greece’s bailout era and the country is now free to shape its future. But the conservatives, leading in the polls, accuse the leftist government of ruining the country. Both parties promise more jobs and better ones, lower taxes, economic growth and a revival of the middle class.

“What’s at stake now is not whether there’s a bailout agreement, or not, but rather what happens the day after the bailouts,” said journalist Alexandros Klossas. “It’s about the country’s road map towards growth.”

Some believe a change in government will finally strengthen the economy.

“I believe in reforms and that without growth, nothing will happen,” said shop owner Roka. “Also, growth cannot come without less taxes. Yet I believe growth will come with this change (of government) we all expect. Like we’ll be resurrected.”

Other voters are more pessimistic.

“I don’t think anything will change with these elections, or the next, or the next,” said aspiring journalist Makri. “We need something very strong, a strong shock so the situation in Greece changes, because with this economic crisis we have reached our limits. We have hit rock-bottom. What we have been living is beyond words.”

Greece’s problems remain deep and complex. Economists agree that it will take a lot of time and effort to solve them, no matter who wins on Sunday.