When Alexis Tsipras called for snap elections in August after resigning as prime minister, he reckoned on a sure victory for his party, Syriza, even possibly an absolute majority.
In the wake of his hardball negotiations with Greece’s creditors, the leftist leader was riding an unparalleled wave of popularity, with polls giving him a 70 percent approval rating. In the few days before calling the elections, his government had agreed on an €86 billion ($98 billion) bailout from the European Union and International Monetary fund, the third huge handout the country has received since 2008.
The financial rescue was needed to prevent Greece from going bankrupt and leaving the euro zone. A so-called “Grexit” was seen as a risk to the stability of the 19-nation single currency region. The bailout enabled Greece, which has a debt pile of almost 200 percent of economic output, to pay its bills, but forced the country to push through unpopular reforms to revive its ailing economy.
Sunday’s elections, however, could destabilize the Mediterranean country again, because pollsters are reporting a neck-and-neck race between Mr. Tsipras and his main rival, Evangelos Meimarakis, leader of the conservative New Democracy party.
Earlier in the week, when the two opponents met in a television debate, no clear winner emerged.
The former prime minister knows that on Sunday every vote counts and is pulling out all of the stops. “The Greek people now have their say,” he said at a gathering in Arta. “They will decide who will be prime minister – not the oligarchs in their dark backrooms and the palaces of Europe.”
Magda Tsakalea applauded so enthusiastically that the small bouquet of flowers she had brought for Mr. Tsipras almost fell out of her hands. She also had a photo of him in her purse, hoping to get an autograph.
“He is Greece’s only hope,” Ms. Tsakalea said, her eyes welling. The 42-year-old has been unemployed since the supermarket where she worked closed two years ago because of the country’s financial crisis. She now hopes for a new job under a Tsipras government, “preferably in public service,” she said.