By Michele Kambas and Angeliki Koutantou
The outcome of Sunday’s Greek national election looks more uncertain than ever after the country’s two dominant politicians ruled out working with each other and apparently failed to sway undecided voters in a final televised debate.
Three hours of often lively exchanges on Monday night that were long on rhetoric but short on substance ended with leftist Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras and his conservative New Democracy rival Vangelis Meimarakis as evenly matched as before the cameras rolled, commentators and other politicians said.
“It was a duel of political insignificance,” said Stavros Theodorakis, head of the centrist To Potami party, polling around 5 to 6 percent surveys and a potential coalition ally for both Syriza and New Democracy.
“There was a lot of tough-guy talk and aggression, the epitome of constructive ambiguity. I don’t think either won. I think both lost.”
Prospects of a grand coalition between the parties, hitherto one of several options, faded as Meimarakis said Syriza was welcome to join New Democracy in an alliance but ruled out sharing power with Tsipras. Tsipras had previously dismissed allying with New Democracy.
“Given what the two political leaders have said, a grand coalition seems difficult,” said Thomas Gerakis, head political analyst for pollsters Marc, who scored the debate a draw.
He said chances of To Potami and the socialist PASOK party, also polling around 5 percent, entering government had increased.
Independent political analyst Theodore Couloumbis also said the “defensive” debate produced no clear winner. He described Tsipras as nervous and took Meimarakis to task for criticising state TV for showing side-by-side images that suggested he is shorter than Tsipras. Meimarakis is in fact a head taller.
“That’s a bit like taking it out on the referee,” Couloumbis said.
Voted into office on an anti-austerity platform, Tsipras forced Sunday’s election by resigning in August, trying to quell a rebellion in his party and win a stronger mandate to push through austerity measures linked with Greece’s third bailout.
The final poll before Monday’s debate, including the preferences of the undecided voters that make up around 15 percent of the electorate, put both parties on 31.6 percent – well short of the 36.3 percent that took Syriza to power in January.
Pollsters said they expect the first surveys taken after the debate to be published by early Thursday.
Greek newspapers were split mostly along party lines, but short on concrete examples of where they thought their man had won.
Independent daily Kathimerini said no clear winner emerged and “both men clashed over everything” from the economy to corruption, the bailout and the refugee crisis – a pithy evaluation of two long-winded and largely negative campaigns.