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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