Alexis Tsipras fights for 2nd chance as knife-edge Greek polls open

Athens: Greece’s maverick leader Alexis Tsipras was today fighting for a second chance to govern the struggling eurozone nation in a tense election with rival conservatives that is proving too close to call.

Polls opened at 0400 GMT in the cliffhanger vote pitting Tsipras’s radical left Syriza party against the conservative New Democracy bloc headed by tough-talking ex-lawyer and defence minister Vangelis Meimarakis, who has wiped out the gap between right and left during the election campaign. Over 9.8 million Greeks were registered to vote in an election that will select a new government to implement a three-year bailout adopted by the country’s parliament last month. The divisive decision led to the toppling of Tsipras’s government.

With around a tenth of the electorate estimated to be undecided, and the gap between the two parties under the 3.0-per cent margin of statistical error, pollsters say the race will be tight. Many voters said they were casting their ballots with a heavy heart, knowing that whichever party wins, they will still be facing the tough reforms Tsipras agreed in July in return for a new 86-billion-euro (USD 97-billion) international rescue.

“I’m voting with great sadness,” said Nikos, a former engineer. “My two children are unemployed and are living on my pension, which has been cut from 1,200 euros ($1,350) to 750 euros,” he told Skai TV. “I hope better days will come but I don’t see it happening,” he said. “Whoever is elected the result will be the same,” added Yiannis, also a pensioner. “Greece has been owing money for its entire existence, and as long as this happens it will suffer.”

Ballots close at 1600 GMT, at which point exit polls will be available. The interior ministry is expected to make an announcement on the first official results after 1800 GMT. Tsipras, a charismatic former student leader, was elected in January with 36.34 per cent of the vote, becoming Greece’s youngest prime minister in 150 years and a beacon for anti-austerity campaigners across the European Union.

He took office as irate Greeks ran out of patience with the dire belt-tightening reforms imposed by the debt-hit country’s international creditors. At the time New Democracy trailed well behind, winning 27.81 per cent of the vote. But the latest figures now show Tsipras leading Meimarakis by a narrow margin, with polls putting the Syriza leader’s advantage at between 0.7 and 3.0 per cent.

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