ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek voters will have a long list of parties to choose from in an election to be held by early May, as new groups spring up on the left and right, including one band of Internet-savvy “Pirates”.
While many of them will win nowhere near the 3 percent of the vote needed to enter parliament, they can still chip away at support for those backing the international bailout Greece needs to avoid immediate default.
Rebel lawmakers and angry citizens have formed four new parties this week alone, riding a wave of frustration at decades of political cronyism and mismanagement that has plunged Greece into a debt crisis and its deepest recession since World War Two.
One of these groups - the Pirates - is a Greek offshoot of a successful political movement in Sweden and Germany that claims no right- or left-wing allegiance and instead seeks transparent government and greater freedom and privacy of Internet use.
Its members paid 5 euros each on Sunday to cover the costs of an unassuming hotel room where they held their first gathering in Athens.
“I’m dreaming of a different Greece, with different politicians,” Dimitris Vagenas, a laid-off airline employee, told the audience of about 40 people, mostly casually dressed 30- to 40-year-old men in the computer business.
The party has registered about 650 members and voted via the Internet this week to stand in the elections.
“We’re here to stay,” spokesman Anestis Samourkasidis, 42, told Reuters.
Nearly a third of all voters plan to abstain or cast blank ballots in the coming election, polls have shown.
The pro-bailout parties, the Socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy (ND), in a coalition under technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, have seen their support sink to an all-time low of about 36 percent combined.
If that were to drop much more they might fail to win the absolute majority they need in the 300-seat parliament to renew their coalition, even with the 50-seat bonus that goes to the party winning the biggest share of the vote.
Support has surged instead for anti-bailout politicians from the extreme right to the hardline Communist left.
As many as 10 parties may win parliament seats in the next election, twice as many as in the previous 2009 poll.
Lawmakers expelled from PASOK and New Democracy for rejecting the bailout unveiled two other new parties this week.
Panos Kammenos, an outspoken former New Democracy lawmaker unveiled his “Independent Greeks” party on Sunday and is already taking as much as 6.5 percent in some polls.
“The Kammenos party will probably make the 3 percent threshold and enter parliament, hurting ND,” pollster Elias Nikolakopoulos told Reuters.
Playing on anti-German feeling which is riding high among Greeks who blame Berlin for their job losses and wage cuts, Kammenos launched his party in Distomo, central Greece, where the dozens of villagers were killed in World War Two.
“We beat them (the Germans) in the war. We’ll beat them again in the Fourth Reich they are trying to impose,” he said.
Separately, Louka Katseli, a former PASOK labor minister who resisted EU/IMF demands to lower the minimum wage, on Wednesday launched the “Social Pact”, a party targeting disgruntled Socialists.
Securing a solid majority will be crucial for whatever government emerges from the polls, which in turn will be crucial for the fate of a 130 billion euro bailout the country secured this month, its second since 2010.
The new government must spell out as early as June austerity measures worth another 5.5 percent of GDP, or more than 10 billion euros. That may entail widespread layoffs of civil servants - a move the country has so far avoided.
Still, despite the growing number of challengers, some pollsters expect the two big parties to recover enough strength by election day to win a comfortable majority between them.
“The election result will most probably confirm their dominance,” said political analyst George Sefertzis, who expects PASOK and New Democracy to take more than 55 percent of votes between them, garnering about 180 seats.
For one thing, the threat of immediate default if the pro-bailout parties collapse will likely sway voters.
The expected election of Evangelos Venizelos, the popular, energetic finance minister, to the post of PASOK Chairman on March 18 - he runs unopposed in that race - may also revive the party’s ratings.
“It’s very hard for me to imagine the two parties failing to win an absolute majority,” said Nikolakopoulos.
Editing by Hugh Lawson