E.U. bailouts divide Greek voters ahead of elections

Greek voters, facing high unemployment and an unstable economy, are heading to the polls to select a new president. But the results could have an impact that goes beyond Greece. The leader of the favored leftist party wants to renegotiate Greece’s bailout deals -- a nonstarter according to European leaders. Hari Sreenivasan reports on what Greeks hope to see from the critical election.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Battling high unemployment and punishing austerity measures, the citizens of Greece are headed to the ballot box this weekend. Leading the polls is a radical leftist party that wants to renegotiate its bailout deals, sparking fears in Europe that other Eurozone countries will follow suit.

    Here's Hari Sreenivasan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It's the election that many in Greece don't seem to want.

  • SUZANNA STEINER (through interpreter):

    Elections shouldn't be happening now. It's the worst time for the economy, for security. The people are not in a good mood. No one is spending money.

  • DAKIS VOULTSIS (through interpreter):

    I wish we were not going to elections. We should have left the government to continue its work and see what it would do.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But the Greek Parliament failed to elect a new president back in December, so a snap election is set for this Sunday. It comes as many voters are still struggling to find work after six years of deep recession and government spending cuts.

    The unemployment rate remains above 25 percent, and, among young people, it's double that: 50.6 percent.

    Giota Vamvaka is 28 years old, and says she's lucky she has any job.

  • GIOTA VAMVAKA (through interpreter):

    The only job I have ever managed to find, both before and during my first degree, and even now that I am doing my second degree, is as a waitress, nothing else, making coffee, serving, behind the bar, the usual part-time survival jobs.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The unrest in the country has spilled into the streets, with anti-austerity protests taking hold on a regular basis. Against that backdrop, the leftist Syriza Party is expected to win Sunday, though not with a majority. It opposes austerity measures mandated by bailouts from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

    Forty-year-old Alexis Tsipras is the party leader.

  • ALEXIS TSIPRAS, Leader, Syriza Party (through interpreter):

    Today, my friends, is the beginning of the end of a regime that plunged Greece into poverty, unemployment, grief, and desperation.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Not so long ago, Tsipras advocated leaving the Eurozone altogether, a so-called "Grexit." He's since scaled back on that stance, but he does want to renegotiate Greece's $278 million bailout deals.

    European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, say that's a nonstarter.

  • CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL, Germany (through interpreter):

    Everything we are doing politically is geared at making sure that Greece stays part of the Eurozone. Two things are part of this: a willingness to show solidarity, which we will continue to show, coupled with a willingness to take responsibility, which I am sure will continue to be shown by Greece.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That's a position that Greece's conservative New Democracy Party, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, agrees with:

  • ANTONIS SAMARAS, Prime Minister, Greece (through interpreter):

    You cannot be against Europe and expect to get more money than what I'm expecting for Greece to get from Europe in the future.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The issue has sharply divided Greek citizens. In Athens, pensioner Savvas Papadopoulos won't cast his ballot for Syriza because he believes the E.U. bailouts are a lifeline.

  • SAVVAS PAPADOPOULOS (through interpreter):

    Where will the money come from? Where can he find it? He says he will go against the E.U. How will he manage that? After all, we are borrowing money from them. We need them. They are our lenders. What can we do about that?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    There are glimmers of economic hope. Since 2009, Greece has climbed back from deep government deficits to a surplus last year.

    But for people like Katerina Tsakalou, it's too little, too late. She's having to sell her Athens cafe because she owes the government money on her pension.

  • KATERINA TSAKALOU (through interpreter):

    My loan is considered red now, and I also have my pensioner mother staying with me. Where am I going to have her stay tomorrow if we lose our home?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That has her ready to try the opposition.

  • KATERINA TSAKALOU (through interpreter):

    It doesn't matter which party gets elected, as long as it's not the same parties which have been taken us for fools for so many years and have brought Greece down on its knees.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Others, like Athens greengrocer Nikos Poulos, haven't decided yet who will get their support.

  • NIKOS POULOS (through interpreter):

    I will vote for the least worse, as the ancient Greeks used to say. I told you, the problem is not right or left politicians. It's honest politicians. Can Syriza find honest people? If they do, so much the better. If they don't, same old, same old.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All of which leaves Europe nervously awaiting the voters' verdict in the birthplace of democracy.

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