The average Greek citizen is very opinionated about politics. Seriously, people are genuinely interested in politics; it is a part of the Greek culture. So is drama; citizens here just love it. If a scandal breaks lose, everyone knows about it and discusses it at great length. This is one of the reasons why it is hard to escape politics on a daily basis; somehow there seem to be very few days in a given year without a new political scandal.
Last Sunday we saw the general election taking place in Greece. The voting is compulsory, and only from 2001 on this has no longer been enforced. The polling takes place in school buildings. Therefore all schools remain closed for students and teachers from Friday through to Monday. Traditionally, voting takes place “from sunrise to sunset”; luckily times are nowadays rounded to the nearest “top of the hour”, on Sunday voting closed at 7 pm.
Many citizens travel during the election weekend. In Greece, citizens must cast their vote at the place of their official registration. In most cases, this is not the place where they live. Greeks honour their traditions – when being asked where one is from, the answer is usually the place where the father grew up. Most Greeks are officially registered at the community the family is originally from. Because of this, every employee has the right of absence from work.
If one works 5 days a week and has to travel between 200 and 400 kilometres, one full day off work is granted. Above 400 kilometres, two full days are given. For anyone who has to travel to an island in order to cast his or her vote, three full days are provided.
For those who work 6 days a week, one day off is granted for the shorter travel distance between 100 and 200 kilometres. Travel up to 400 kilometres and you get two days off work. Any further than that and you get 3 days off.
Tickets for ferryboats are heavily subsidised by the larger political parties. I am amazed by how much travel takes place: For example, my brother-in-law travelled from Thessalonica in the far north of Greece to the island of Crete, the most southern spot in the country.
The traffic is also really bad on the day of the election. Greeks in general don’t like to walk. When arriving at one of the many schools where the polling takes place, it is not a sober option to park the car anywhere else than right in front of the building. This of course leads to a complete chaos on many roads; it would be fascinating to see a Google Earth image of Athens on Election Sunday.
Next day election stories include the furious aggression that was caused by a long forgotten sign, hanging on one of the school classes that was used as a voting centre, in one of the Greek villages reading ‘long live the King’.
In northern Greece a candidate for the Communist party locked the principle overlooking the voting process in a room, because he was frustrated with the result outlook.
Every household uses more than one media to get up to date information about the exact status of the outcome, including names of parliament representatives– the particular agony is about having someone in government that ‘you know’. Now that election fever is over, making ends meet with the given outcome becomes the Greeks’ next worry.