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Greeks Will Vote 'With Emotions' as World Watches

The Greek people go to the ballot box Sunday with the eyes of the world on their actions, as the result remained too close to call.

“We Greeks vote with our emotions,” an unemployed metal worker in his 40s, who did not want to be named, told CNBC.com in Athens.

The Parthenon in Greece
Scott E. Barbour | Getty Images
The Parthenon in Greece

The emotions dominating conversations in the city where democracy was first founded include despair, pessimism and resignation.

It’s this despair and confusion that could sweep radical left, anti-bailout party Syriza to victory, and has already won it much clout. Life is getting harder for many Greeks, and there is little hope of improvement soon under the austerity imposed as part of the bailout conditions. Small wonder that anyone promising changes to the bailout's terms will perform well at the polls.

European officials have been appealing to the heads rather than hearts of the Greeks ahead of the election, with Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the Eurogroup, warning that electing Syriza could have “unforeseen” consequences for the country’s membership of the euro.

"We had all the good things of capitalism, like the consumer goods, but we still had a big welfare state and the good things of communism. This could not continue, and we have to change it now for our next generation."" -Charity Director in Athens, George Protopapas

But this does not address Greek fears that they may ultimately be square pegs squeezed into a Northern European round hole if the current bailout conditions continue.

“We are not Europeans. We are not Africans. We are not Turks. Who are we?” the metal worker asked.

Greeks are in the throes of an identity crisis and, whether they choose the old right-wing, pro-bailout party New Democracy or the newer leftist, anti-bailout Syriza, this is likely to continue for years, perhaps decades. This may be partly because of the strange marriage of capitalism and socialism which has characterized the country for the last generation.

“We had all the good things of capitalism, like the consumer goods, but we still had a big welfare state and the good things of communism,” charity director George Protopapas told CNBC.com.

“This could not continue, and we have to change it now for our next generation.”

Thousands gathered in front of Greece's parliament building Friday night to hear New Democracy leader and possible future Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promise to keep the country in the euro - and warn of the danger presented by Syriza.

The position of Samaras himself may be under threat even if New Democracy is voted in. On Friday, surrounded by flag-waving supporters, Samaras seemed confident and in charge – although he maintained his characteristic unsmiling expression throughout.

His position has looked shaky for a while, as he is viewed by many as too divisive for the current times. A leader who could bring in Pasok, formerly their greatest rivals, into a coalition might be preferred, people familiar with Greek politics suggest.

The return of rebel MP Dora Bakoyannis, the glamorous former Mayor of Athens and scion of one of the country’s best-known political dynasties, led to rumors she might be a compromise candidate.

Whoever forms the next government, the angst and anxiety in Athens look set to continue.

Watch CNBC's “A Greek Tragedy” anchored by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, on Sunday, June 17th at 8 p.m. ET.