Greece vote may decide euro's fate

Last updated 19:05 17/06/2012
MORE TURMOIL TO COME?: A Greek orthodox priest holds his ballot paper as he exits a voting booth at an Athens school used as a polling station.
Reuters
MORE TURMOIL TO COME?: A Greek orthodox priest holds his ballot paper as he exits a voting booth at an Athens school used as a polling station.

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Greeks have gone to the polls in an election that could decide whether their heavily indebted country remains in the euro zone or heads for the exit, potentially unleashing shocks that could break up the single currency.

In an election fought over the punishing austerity package demanded by international lenders as the price of keeping Greece from bankruptcy, opinion polls showed the radical leftist SYRIZA party, which wants to scrap the deal, running neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy, which broadly backs it.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have insisted that the conditions of the 130 billion euro bailout accord agreed in March must be accepted fully by a new government or funds will be cut off, driving Greece into bankruptcy.

All parties say they will keep Greece in the single currency, but SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras believes the agreement can be renegotiated without Greece having to leave, betting that European leaders cannot afford the turmoil that would be unleashed by cutting a member of the euro zone loose.

On the right, establishment heir and New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras says rejection of the EU/IMF bailout would mean a return to the drachma and even greater calamity, although he, too, wants to renegotiate some aspects of the package.

Opinion polls show Greeks, weary after five years of deep recession, overwhelmingly favour remaining in the euro, but there is bitter anger over repeated rounds of tax hikes, slashed spending and sharp cuts in wages.

Many voters are also furious with New Democracy and the other traditional ruling party, the now severely weakened PASOK, blaming them for decades of corruption, waste and inefficiency.

"It's the first time I feel depressed after voting, knowing that I voted again for those who created the problem, but we don't have another choice," said 66-year-old English teacher Koula Louizopoulou.

"I voted for the bailout because these are the terms that will keep us in Europe," she said.

A win for Greece's national soccer team in a game on Saturday at the Euro 2012 championships provided some lift for voters but there was little sign of enthusiasm at the polling booths, which close at 7pm (4am, NZT). Exit polls will follow soon after voting ends.

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