Greek election may decide future in eurozone

Greek voters check polling station details in the general election on June 17, 2012 in Athens, Greece. The Greek electorate go to the polls in a re-run of the general election after no combination of political parties were able to form a coalition government.
Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

(CBS/AP) ATHENS, Greece - Greeks voted Sunday for the second time in six weeks in what was arguably their country's most critical election in 40 years, with the country's treasured place within the European Union's joint currency in the balance.

Voters are deciding whether to support parties that back a bailout by other Eurozone nations, or to elect those who want Greece to go back to its former currency, the drachma.

The political turmoil sparked by a two-year financial crisis has roiled markets across the world, with fears that victory by parties that have vowed to cancel the country's international bailout agreements and accompanying austerity measures could see Greece forced out of the euro.

That in turn would likely drag down other financially troubled countries and rip apart the euro itself.

Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, the man who first revealed just how big a mess the Greek economy was in, warns that if voters reject austerity and are kicked out of the Eurozone, the future is going to get a lot worse for them.

The last opinion polls published before a two-week pre-election ban showed the radical left Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras running neck-and-neck with the conservative New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras. But no party is likely to win enough votes to form a government on its own, meaning a coalition will have to be formed to avoid yet another election.

Reuters has reported that a hand grenade was thrown outside Greek TV station Skai by two men riding a motorbike, but it did not explode. Officials did not say whether the grenade had failed to blow up or if it was a fake.

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In Greece voting is compulsory, but outside a polling station in the upscale Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki, a 22-year-old civil service worker told CBS News that he didn't like any of the parties and invalidated his ballot.

He and his friends are barely making ends meet after salary cuts and tax increases. "We help one another as much as we can," he said. "We eat at each other's home and if we go out it's somewhere calm."

A senior citizen, who didn't want to give her name, told CBS Radio that she and her husband voted for the conservative center-right party New Democracy. She's concerned about additional taxes, poor health care and an inability to find medicine. She wants to protect her property that she says they worked hard to acquire. "We're thinking about every dime we spend," she said. "We want to put something aside."

The results of exit surveys were expected at the close of polling stations at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) Sunday, and the first official projections were expected at around 9:30 p.m. (1830 GMT). Strong winds in the Greek archipelago forced the cancellation of some ferry routes, raising doubts about whether some voters would be able to get to islands with polling stations in time.

Inconclusive elections on May 6 resulted in no party winning enough votes to form a government, and coalition talks collapsed after 10 days. The vote, which also sent the formerly governing socialist PASOK party plunging to historic lows, sent a very clear message that Greeks have lost patience with the deep austerity imposed in return for the country receiving billions of euros in rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

"I'd like to see something change for the country in general, including regarding the bailout," said Vassilis Stergiou, an early-morning voter at an Athens polling station. "But at least for us to get organized and at the very least do something."

Tsipras, a 37-year-old former student activist, has vowed to rip up Greece's bailout agreements and repeal the austerity measures, which have included deep spending cuts on everything from health care to education and infrastructure, as well as tax hikes and reductions of salaries and pensions.

But his pledges, which include canceling planned privatizations, nationalizing banks and rolling back cuts to minimum wages and pensions, have horrified European leaders, as well as many Greeks. Tsipras' opponents argue that the inexperienced young politician is out of touch with reality, and that his policies will force the country out of the euro and lead to poverty for years to come.

Virtually unknown outside of Greece four months ago, Tsipras' pledges and his party's strong showing in the May 6 elections, where he came a surprise second place and quadrupled his support since the 2009 election, has put him in the international spotlight.