Greeks Doubtful Election Will Speed Economic Recovery
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Greeks will be voting this Sunday in early parliamentary elections. An anti-bailout leftist party is leading in the polls. But this election could still end in a deadlock. That political uncertainty is worrying business owners who are weathering the worst economic crisis in recent memory. Joanna Kakissis has this report from Athens.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In early 2013, just as the Greek government was claiming the economy was on the mend, Theodoros Tzokas left a job in the private sector to open his own business. It was a longtime dream. He modeled his cafe and bar after a prohibition-style speakeasy, a nod to his wife's great-grandfather, who ran one in the United States.
THEODOROS TZOKAS: Most of my friends told me that, OK, you have a great job in the private sector. Don't leave it because you're going to lose the money. You are crazy to put your money and open up a business in Athens in that period - stuff like that.
KAKISSIS: He wanted to believe that Greece had turned a corner. But despite talk of reforms, his business still took months to set up thanks to tons of red tape. And no banks are lending, so he was forced to seek credit from his own suppliers.
TZOKAS: With very careful management, we managed to make this place work without having any loss on our back. But it was quite hard.
KAKISSIS: He's actually lucky because he's breaking even. The number of businesses in Greece has dropped by 230,000 in the last five years. Now this weekend's elections have Tzokas on edge.
TZOKAS: Any change will worry us because we're walking on a rope now because we don't know how the markets will react with a new government in Greece.
KAKISSIS: It's unclear when that new government might be formed. It's a contest between Syriza, the leftist party that's leading in polls, and the conservative New Democracy, the main party in the current coalition government. Syriza opposes the multibillion-dollar bailout that's keeping Greece afloat. New Democracy claims that supporting Syriza would mean leaving the euro. Neither party offers much hope for business owners, says Giorgos Kavvathas, who leads the merchants' confederation.
GIORGOS KAVVATHAS: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: "New Democracy's only platform appears to be fear," he says, "and Syriza seems to have no clear plan to revive the economy." But Mathaios Ploumis is thinking about voting for Syriza anyway. He ran an ouzo restaurant on the island of Chios for 17 years. But austerity tripled his tax bill, slowed business and shut him down.
MATHAIOS PLOUMIS: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: "I've been unemployed for more than a year now because I was also crushed by a depression that seems to have taken down half the country," he says. "And it did not have to be this way." He says he hopes the next government will finally stand up for him and for Greece. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.