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Elections

Greeks looking for light in European election

Austerity-pummeled Greeks headed to the polls for European Parliament elections Sunday - some seeking a political turnaround in untested parties, and others sticking with what they know.

On a steep hill facing the sea, in the no-frills town of Perama near the port city of Piraeus, a Persian monarch watched as Greeks defeated his invading fleet off the island of Salamis 2,500 years ago.

Today, it's 30,000 Greeks here who are defeated - by an austerity-fueled recession that has pushed unemployment in Perama to 45 percent, far higher than the national rate of nearly 27 percent.

About 70 percent of the local shipping industry - once a vibrant, job-creating force - has closed. Nearly all of the former shipyard workers are jobless. The collapse of the centerpiece industry here has also crushed the rest of the town.

Out with the old

Leader of leftist main opposition Syriza party and candidate for the European Commission presidency Alexis Tsipras (Photo: REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis)

Leftist parties across Europe could see gains in the elections

"The sun is shining, but the crisis feels dark and limitless," said Kyriakos Syrakos, a 60-year-old retired nurse, as he sipped iced coffee out of a plastic cup outside a polling station at a Perama high school. "We need to change our leaders entirely so we can actually see some light."

Syrakos voted for the leftist Syriza party, which is leading slightly in most public opinion polls and is expected to do well in European Parliament elections. He used to vote for the center-left PASOK party, which is now blamed for helping to bankrupt the country and force it to take a bailout.

"I'm done with old-style politics," Syrakos said, adding that he supported people who made big mistakes. "I don't know if Syriza will be better, but they haven't stolen money and they haven't lied to us. So we have to give them a try."

Syrakos says he can't wrap his mind around the fact that the government debt has actually increased under the austerity regime. "How is this a success story?" he asked. "How can you say 'success' when I see people in my neighborhood looking in the garbage for food?"

A man searches for voting information at a polling station in Athens, prior casting his vote the the European elections (Photo: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Results from the Greek vote may reflect how convinced citizens are of the government's claim to an upswing

He says he's limping along on a pension that's been cut in half, and that he expects all four of his children will have to leave Greece to find work.

Playing it safe

But voter Anastasia Lekka, a divorced, single mother of two, said she has hope despite being unemployed.

"Aren't things getting a little bit better?" she asked. "We aren't the headlines anymore as the problem child of Europe. We aren't scared of leaving the eurozone or going bankrupt," Lekka said. "It's going to be a slow and painful process, but I would rather have someone I know lead us through it than someone I don't know."

Lekka says she supports the conservative New Democracy party, headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Anti-austerity protesters and parliamentarians of the anti-bailout radical leftist SYRIZA party participate in a rally in Athens (Photo: REUTERS/John Kolesidis)

Syriza has strongly opposed the austerity measures, which included thousands of public-sector layoffs

"I don't like taking risks," she said. She's voted for the same party her whole life, she added. "Although I know they've made mistakes, I will keep voting for them," Lekka said.

"I don't want a bunch of untested people, like Syriza, in office," Lekka added. "What if they make a mistake that leads us hurtling back into crisis?"

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