Monthly Archives: May 2014

Greek Local elections – Round 2

 Investors are looking to Greece this week as the country prepares for its second round of voting in local elections on May 25. Up for grabs are positions in Greece’s 325 municipalities in 13 regions. Voters will simultaneously also select their candidates for the European Parliament.

The leading two candidates in every region’s initial elections go to a final vote on May 25 to pick a winner with a clear majority of over 50%. The elections painted a disjointed picture of the country’s political affiliations. A disillusioned and austerity-weary public punished the main parties by picking satellite parties and relative newcomers.

The Global X Greece ETF (GREK) closed at $21.33 on Thursday, down 5.3% year to date.

 Speaking to Bloomberg, Loukas Tsoukalis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, said of the first round, “Personalities won over political parties, as independent candidat 3ff0 es are ahead in three of the country’s largest cities. The results show the fragmentation of Greece’s political landscape.”

In the Attica region of Greece, where Athens is located, the New Democracy party suffered heavy losses and failed to secure a place in the second round of voting.

Adding to the threat of national and European instability was the outcome of voting for anti-bailout party Syriza, which managed to get a candidate through for the second round of Athens’ mayoral seat, and neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn. The party exceeded expectations by securing 16% of the popular vote in Athens, tripling their previous total in 2012 and raising the prospect of the party securing seats in the European parliamentary elections.

Such a move would likely prove problematic to the country’s recent tentative steps back into the bond market.

Just last month, Greece made its return to the international bond market after a four-year hiatus. While the initial launch was a success and was hailed as proof of the country’s economic recovery, yields have begun creeping up to nearly 7% after a pre-launch low of just below 6%, as the markets wait to see what happens next.

The country has already submitted to a 70% haircut for bond interest rates in the past, an economy that has shrunk some 23% since 2008, and a relentlessly growing unemployment rate.

It’s paramount for Greece to assure investors of its stability.

“Greece must show it has the stability it deserves through the sacrifices of the Greek people. And it is in the hands of the Greek people and their vote to decide whether we move ahead with stable steps or we let the country go backwards again.” said Samaras in live television comments the day after the first round of voting. No doubt this was an effort to steer voters away from the anti-EU and anti-austerity rhetoric that has lured voters away from his party. The country’s political uncertainty, combined with speculation that the government was poised to levy a retroactive tax on profits made through trading Greek government bonds in recent years, led to a Greek bond selloff. These claims have since been denied by the Greek government’s finance minister, Yiannis Stouranas, but not before a domino effect had been sparked with Italian bond yields following suit.

 Bond markets in the region remain jittery as investors wait to see how the local and European election results unfold in Greece and beyond.

  This article first appeared on TheStreet.com

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Local Elections in Athens – Round 1

Greeks vote in local elections starting tomorrow

Tomorrow, the first round of local elections take place in Greece. Up for grabs are positions in Greece’s 325 municipalities in 13 regions.

We always know when local elections are coming up in Greece. The local mayor goes around smashing up his municipality’s paving and replacing it with new pavements, or gets a couple of buildings and public schools hastily painted, and we are all supposed to be impressed.

Elections are a frustrating time for me in Greece. As a foreigner, I have no right to vote in them, and therefore no right to influence the issues that are important to me. For example, those lovely new pavements I mentioned. My older son has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. More than a few times, I have come home from a walk with him in his pushchair, crying tears of frustration because in Athens, pavements come in the most un-mobility friendly design you can possibly imagine. It’s like they have a dedicated person sitting in an office somewhere, looking at street plans and toiling late into the night to work out how precisely he can make the pavements as hostile to people with mobility issues as humanly possible.

So we get two choices to pick from. Either pavements that are broken, cracked and have chunks missing from them, making them ripe ground for children and old people to trip and fall, or pavements that are built with trees planted right in the middle of them, making them impossible to actually use if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller and forcing you into the road. Both selections come with an ample choice of cars parked across them, making them almost completely inaccessible at the best of times.

If there is a stupider design for pavements, I have yet to come across it. We recently had a fantastic new metro station open just down the road from us when the red line was extended. Alimos station is a really beautiful, airy metro station and has connected my neighbourhood to the centre with a mere 20 minute metro ride. The area leading up to it was all newly built too. And what did we get for pavements? A brand new, impossible to navigate with a pushchair, tree-sprouting pavement.

There was no excuse for this, this was a completely new project. I think into the future, my son’s future which for now, with no current cure, definitely includes a wheelchair, and  I feel dizzy from the anger I feel. I feel like going around with a golf club in the baby bag to smash up the cars I see parked across the precious few mobility ramps these ridiculous pavements have.

One excuse is there is no money. I find this hard to believe. In the run up to the local elections, our mayor in Elliniko-Argiroupolis has blown who knows how many Euros building a nice little square on a scrap of wasteland between a main road, Vouliagmenis Avenue, and  an electronics store. They’ve even put down grass, which in Athenian summers costs a small fortune to keep alive. We also got shiny new benches on this nonsensical square, because God damn it, my dream was always to have somewhere to sit while I watched the traffic during rush hour on Vouliagmenis, with an ugly electronics store behind me, and now my dream is a reality.

I have gone off on a tangent. The biggest prize up for grabs in these elections is the seat of mayor of the municipality of Athens proper, and there are five main candidates running. The English version of Eleftherotypia provides an excellent summary of these candidates here.

The candidates are an interesting mix. They are a reminder of how much has happened in Greek politics in recent years. We are faced for the first time with the hideous prospect of having a neo-nazi in the most important municipal post in the country.

There are lots of crisis-driven, crowd pleasing strategies going on that lean to the right, disturbingly towards the realm of Golden Dawn. For example, Aris Spiliotopoulos, the New Democracy candidate, made a big show of officially leaving his party to pursue the mayoral seat and opposes the building of an official mosque in Votanikos, no doubt in a bid to get himself some of those Golden Dawn votes.

The centre right government earlier this year passed a law that banned second-generation immigrants from voting in elections, effectively silencing the voices that would have used their vote to reduce the stronghold of Golden Dawn. It all makes for such depressing reading it’s often easy to forget that this is the birthplace of democracy we’re talking about.

As central Athens bears the brunt of the country’s enormous, badly handled illegal immigrant issue, who knows which way these elections will go.

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The world outside Athens

Spring time countryside in North Greece

This weekend I took a trip with my family outside of Athens, to the city of Larissa.

Larissa lies about 350 kilometers north of Athens, about 3 and a half hours by car. It’s where my husband’s grandmother grew up and where he spent most of his childhood summers. Incidentally, Larissa has a rather scandalous reputation. The housewives of the city are rumoured to have voracious sexual appetites, to the point of tragedy when a couple of years ago a young soldier stationed in the city is said to have died of exhaustion during a threesome with the city’s famous cougars. I can’t establish if there is any truth to this, though my husband is adamant that it happened.

Half of Greece’s population lives in Athens. It’s easy to get caught up in Athenian life and to forget that outside of this sprawling city lies the rest of Greece. This is the biggest mistake that the Troika make too. They don’t take the time to see what’s going on in the rest of Greece, and this is important, because the rest of Greece is nothing like Athens.

Mainland Greece a few hours out of Athens is like a different world. People are more insular here, though still friendly enough. If Athenians like a good conspiracy theory, then the rest of the country not only indulges in these theories, they actively believe them. That’s not because they are stupid. It’s because outside of Athens, an information vacuum exists, and Greeks here feel that they have been forgotten by the bigshots in Athens. They’re not exactly wrong.

Some of the more fantastical ideas I have heard is that the authorities have been spraying the atmosphere with a chemical that pacifies the Greeks so they don’t cause trouble. This has obviously not worked. The other one was that a political party was going over the areas with a helicopter and throwing snakes into the fields. I can’t remember what justification was given for this one. The evidence was that certain breeds of snake didn’t exist in certain areas, and after a few flyovers by mysterious helicopters, they started appearing.

As we were leaving Larissa, an old neighbour who has known my husband since he was a little boy came to say goodbye. “So you’re leaving then. Back to the city of 5 million thieves and liars” he said. And that’s what it seems the crisis has done to Greece, created an atmosphere of Athens and the rest of the country. When the Troika swan into Athens, demanding this and that, they have no idea what is going on in the rest of the country, how different the pace of life is there. Greece’s much lauded return to the bond market is good news, but I’m afraid it will most likely only be good news for Athens.

Beyond the metropolis, the country is a riot of colours and sprawling countryside. Balconies overflow with flowers and greenery in contrast to Athens, where no one has time to tend to their plants. My husband’s uncle asked him about his work “12 hours a day? You don’t come home for lunch? And you work most weekends? You people in Athens are crazy.” he said. Outside of Athens the cities and villages are suffering from a lack of new life. The young have abandoned the rest of Greece either for the capital or for foreign shores. It’s a pitiful reflection on the country’s government that they pumped so much investment into Athens to the detriment of the rest of the country.

As we drove past the cherry groves outside Agiakombo, I watched property owners working on their seafront buildings and cafes, getting them into shape for the summer. Most of Greece makes its money in the tourist season, and they have to make enough in one summer to get by for the rest of the year. Such a pity, considering the resources, the ski resorts, the hiking trails, climbing trails and brilliant countryside that could so easily be marketed to the outside world.

There are unique cities with unique resources spread throughout the country. It’s a pity that they have, for decade upon decade, just been left to go to seed.

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