05/06/2012 10:00 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Greek Voters Punish Main Parties In Election

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Greek voters angry about the prospect of more crippling austerity measures gave scattershot support on Sunday to a range of anti-bailout groups, likely extinguishing chances that either of the two once-dominant parties would form a government.

Projected election results showed neither the conservative New Democracy nor the socialist Pasok parties garnering enough support for an absolute majority in parliament.

It would appear that both parties are the victims of a protest vote, leading the heads of the political factions — which have alternated power since 1974 — to vow to consider overturning Greece's multibillion-dollar international bailout agreement or at least to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

In a desperate move, both New Democracy head Antonis Samaras and Pasok leader and former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos voiced support for a coalition government. Before Sunday, Samaras had rejected the notion. Official projections on Sunday showed New Democracy taking 18.9 per cent of the vote. That would give it 108 seats in the 300-member parliament — far short of the 151 seats needed to form a government.

Boost for extremist right-wing party

The left-wing Syriza party, which opposes the bailout, was projected in second place with 16.8 per cent and 51 seats.

The socialist Pasok party, which had earlier been polling in second place, fell to third place with 13.4 per cent and 41 seats.

Several fringe parties enjoyed a boost in support, including the staunchly anti-immigration Golden Dawn party, which stands to take about seven per cent of the vote. For the first time in nearly four decades, the extremist far-right group, which has rejected its neo-Nazi label, could have as many as 22 seats in parliament.

The projected election results illustrated the mood of the debt-ridden country's citizens, angered by a protracted financial crisis and seeking to punish the parties that have been blamed for leading Greece into economic ruin.

For a snapshot of how how ordinary people are coping with the Greek economic malady, CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis visited the village of Mystras in the indebted country's south.

The municipality, home to some of Roumeliotis's extended family and near the site of ancient Sparta, is the scene of staggering poverty, she reported, and optimism is hard to find.

Like so many other young Greeks, three of Roumeliotis's cousins — Korina, Panos and Illias Nikolarou — have had to return to live in their parents' home after years of financial independence.

'Unsure for the future'

They and other members of a new generation of working poor blame the crushing recession and austerity measures for their financial woes, though they could be considered the lucky ones in a country where more than 50 per cent of young people don't have a job.

"There are two or three months [where] every day, I am on my computer just sending CVs," Korina said.

"You feel unsure for the future. I want to be an optimist and think that one day — I don't know if it's going to be in one year or five years — but I think that maybe it's the end to start something new and something better."

Korina, who has a master's degree in engineering, is scraping by on a month-to-month contract that's expected to dry up by June.

Her firefighter brother, Panos, 34, laments being forced to move out of his apartment after his salary was slashed to about $800 a month.

"I have to live with my parents," he said. "When will I have my own family? I can't get a loan to buy a house. My wages are too low. I can barely cover my basic expenses."

Illias, a high school teacher working toward his PhD, is angry that he and other Greeks have had to pay for "other people's mistakes" and has begun to think it's time to leave his native land.

Loss of dignity

"The biggest problem is we don't dream anymore. We don't have dreams anymore," he said. "We just try to survive and say, OK, let's see how it's going to be next month, next three months."

Illias said the economic crisis has stripped once-industrious citizens of their dignity.

Among them are men like Georgos Barkouris, currently sharing a room with two others in a homeless shelter — a far cry from where he used to live.

"I was a middle-class person with everything, and then I had nothing," said Barkouris, who worked at Greece's Foreign Ministry until his job was cut a few years ago.

Even those seeking solace in their faith have run up against challenges. Orthodox churches across Greece now end sermons with pleas for donations from people who have less to give every day.

Suicide rate up 45%

Rev. Lazaros Skagos said his own children have recently lost their jobs. He said he knows of families too ashamed to ask for financial aid, though he knows there are many who need it. Every day, he delivers donated groceries in the early hours, making sure no one can see him.

"We will all learn to live with less. What else can we do?" he said.

More than two years of repeated austerity measures that have included pension and salary cuts and waves of tax hikes have pushed Greece into a deep recession that has seen the jobless rate explode and tens of thousands of businesses close.

The situation is too bleak to bear for many Greeks. Aris Violantzis, a psychologist who volunteers at a suicide help line, said there's been a 45 per cent increase in suicides in the last year alone.

"We are all very surprised with the fact that we are already five years into it, and we don't see any way out at all," Violantzis said. "We see a tunnel at the end of a tunnel."

The Greek election outcome is particularly devastating to the Pasok party, which won a landslide victory in the last parliamentary elections in 2009 with more than 43 per cent of the vote.

The political leaders, humbled by the drubbing in the polls which saw their combined support drop to about 33 per cent, compared with a historical average of 80 per cent, will have to work fast to ensure their country doesn't slide into protracted political instability.

Greece's international creditors are also looking to see whether it will introduce new measures expected in June to ensure the country meets the fiscal targets of its rescue loans.

Days of talks are expected as parties attempt to hammer out a governing coalition.