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The local elections held in Greece on May 26 cast doubt on the integrity of the powers-that-be in Athens, and raise questions about how fair the upcoming national elections, scheduled for July 7, will be.
During the lead-up to the local elections, suspicion had been rampant that the left-wing Syriza-led government was going to try to manipulate the outcome.
As Lefteris Avgenakis -- secretary of the opposition New Democracy party -- told SKAI TV on May 16:
"There is the fear and the feeling... [and] information that some [members of] Syriza are determined... to distort the election results... We are telling [the Greek public] that New Democracy will be there with electoral representatives to ensure that their votes will be those counted at the ballot box."
The following day, on May 17, 2019, New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis attempted to distance himself from his party secretary's statement, apparently to prevent possible delegitimization of what would become a victory for his conservative party. Mitsotakis insisted in an interview with Star TV that there "is no such issue" of potential ballot fraud. However, he added, "We urge the New Democrats to monitor the ballot boxes to help safeguard the electoral process."
Mitsotakis's caveat indicated that he did not believe his own protestations. After all, if he had not suspected that the government might interfere with the electoral process, why would he "urge" his party members and supporters to protect that process?
Furthermore, months earlier, in January, Mitsotakis told a meeting of party members that he had issued a harsh warning to the government that the elections would be conducted "under exactly the same terms and with the same technical specifications as all previous election races: with audited electoral lists, with a secure electronic system and in a way that will ensure the smooth process of the vote."
On May 18, LAOS Nationalist party leader Giorgos Karatzaferis also protested the government's ostensible interference in the elections, but for a different reason. Karatzaferis said that the vote could be slanted leftward by the swift granting of Greek citizenship to thousands of immigrants. He also expressed his reservations about the integrity of the private company in charge of ballot boxes and election-results publication.
The most damning testimony of electoral fraud, however, came from Dimitris Mavros, managing director of the MRB polling company. In a radio interview on June 2, Mavros said that he had been under extreme pressure from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to manipulate the polls published by his firm in such a way that the gap between Syriza and New Democracy was negligible. In fact, as it would emerge after the elections, the left-wing bloc -- consisting of Syriza, the Social Democrats and the Communists -- failed to garner more than 35% of the votes altogether. It was a showing unprecedented in Greece's political history over the last half a century.
The crucial question now surrounds the extent to which Greek voters heading to the polls on July 7 to elect their next government can trust that their ballots will be counted -- and reported -- fairly.
Maria Polizoidou, a reporter, broadcast journalist, and consultant on international and foreign affairs, is based in Greece. She has a graduate degree in "Geopolitics and Security Issues in the Islamic complex of Turkey and Middle East" from the University of Athens.