The Guardian — A huge storm, violent, dark and loud, rumbled through Greece, thunder and lightning skittering through the skies. After Sunday’s general elections it was not lost on many: Athenians saw in the tempest a perfect metaphor, an omen even, that the old was finally being washed away.
“People voted for change, for what they believed would be a fresh start,” Lefteris Pavlis, who owns a chain of eateries in the city centre, said on Monday. “They voted to give Alexis Tsipras a second chance, which says a lot about the state of the opposition.”
And yet the triumphant return to power of the young leftist and his Syriza party, pledging to overturn the old order of corruption, cronyism and vested interests, was not preoccupying many. What was uppermost was the daily grind of living.
“There are problems,” sighed Vangelis Evangelides, who sells nuts in the narrow streets beneath the ancient Acropolis. “Lots of problems. Will Syriza be able to solve them?” he shrugged. “Let’s hope they can.”
Almost six years into their worst financial crisis in modern times, Greeks are exhausted, weary of self-examination, worn down by economic and political uncertainty and the depredations of austerity.
On the streets on Monday, outside banks and kiosks and shops, the mood, if anything, was strangely sombre. “What election?” quipped Panagiotis Katsanos who runs a kiosk on Mitropoleos Street in central Athens.
From 7am to 1pm, about 150 people had stopped by to say “good morning” or buy cigarettes, newspapers and soft drinks, but not a single person had mentioned the election. “I’m telling you: not one person,” he exclaimed. “Nobody cares, because the feeling is they are all the same, they all tell lies, so what’s the difference?”
In the vegetable stalls off Athinas Street, vendors echoed that view. “Ten people this morning have had me weigh olives,” said Tassos Kounoupiotis. “We have got to that point where money is so tight. Politics and politicians belong to another world.”
It was clear as pollsters took stock of the election result that voter apathy – the force behind an abstention rate that reached a record high of almost 44% – has now become a dominant feature of Greek politics. Tsipras is the fifth prime minister to be voted into office since the crisis began. In winning his gamble for a fresh, four-year mandate he has emerged as the pre-eminent figure in Greek political life, but for many people his victory does not reflect their concerns.
That, say analysts, will make implementation of the draconian reforms international creditors are demanding in return for a third rescue programme of €86bn (£62bn) in bailout funds harder still. The snap poll saw very little discussion of the spending cuts and reforms the new administration will now have to embark on. A Greek default and ejection from the eurozone will loom if they are not enforced.
“It was incredible that a man who betrayed every single promise he ever made, who oversaw a period where the banks were closed and capital controls were enforced, who played such a big part in worsening the economy, was again voted in so spectacularly,” said Pavlis. “The controls have eased it’s true, but every small business is having a really hard time,” he lamented.
But, he said, it was undeniable that the era of Tsipras was now upon Greece.
“He has promised the sun will shine. There are a lot of people out there who are going to be hoping today’s storm isn’t his first broken promise.”