High-stakes election may put Greece on collision course with European Union

Opinion polls give leftwing anti-austerity Syriza party a clear lead, but the party may not win enough seats to govern alone

After five punishing years of austerity and recession, Greeks have begun casting their votes in a high-stakes election that could set their battered country on a collision course with the European Union.

Final opinion polls on Friday showed Syriza, which has pledged to overturn austerity and renegotiate Greece’s debt mountain, with a lead of between four and seven percentage points over its main rival New Democracy, with one poll putting the radical leftist party 10 points clear.

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The Observer view on the Greek elections | Observer editorial

The lesson of the Greek national polls is that austerity must end

There are limits to humiliation. Barring an extraordinary upset, Syriza, a radical leftwing party previously confined to the political margins, will win Sunday’s Greek general election. Last-minute opinion polls gave Syriza a lead of between 4% and 6% over the ruling New Democracy party of prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Its youthful leader, Alexis Tsipras, may not win an outright majority. He may struggle to find coalition partners. But that will not diminish the significance of Syriza’s victory, nor lessen its potentially dramatic implications for Greece and all Europe.

Many explanations can be found for this political upheaval, but humiliation is a good place to start. Since the 2008 crisis, Greeks have been subjected to what many feel is a sustained, brutal and unnecessarily destructive attack on their basic living standards, way of life and national independence. If a country is invaded and occupied by hostile forces, it might expect to lose its freedom and its voice. But the subjugation of Greece, in the name of fiscal responsibility, debt reduction and structural reform, was undertaken by so-called friendly powers, principally, Germany, Europe’s paymaster, and the troika comprising the EU commission, European central bank and IMF. While dictating terms in the form of a €240bn bailout and a swingeing austerity programme, Greece’s new masters forgot that Athens, home of the polis, the original democratic city state of enfranchised citizens, had not lost its power of speech. It had not forfeited its right to resist. Modern Greece is a small country of 11 million people. It was never wealthy. But as its history shows, what Greece has, it holds, or will ever try to do so. Thus Sunday’s elections look set to produce an angry, nationwide outcry from freeborn citizens, saying: this is our country and we want it back. National humiliation must end.

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