ATHENS – The head-on train collision that killed 57 people and revealed failures to implement safety measures has cost the ruling New Democracy ahead of elections, the government’s lead over the major opposition SYRIZA falling to just 2.9 percent.
That was shown in an opinion poll coming a couple of days after a previous survey put the lead at 3.9 percent as the Conservatives lead is nearly evaporating after rage over the disaster and protests in the streets.
The MRB poll for Open TV gave New Democracy a 27.4-24.5 percent lead over SYRIZA with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sliding from a previous 30.2 percent support and losing 3 percent overall.
His lead had been as high as 14 percent in 2022 before a surveillance scandal over phone bugging saw SYRIZA pounce and snipe away, the train tragedy seeing voters move away from other parties as well.
Third is the PASOK-KINAL Movement for Change center-left at 9 percent, followed by the KKE Communists at their usual 5.1 percent – a position virtually unchanged for decades.
They were followed by the other marginal parties in Parliament, the ultra-nationalist Greek Solution standing pat at 4.5 percent and the tiny meRA25 of former SYRIZA finance chief Yanis Varoufakis at only 3.9 percent but 17.4 percent of voters undecided, the target audience of the leading parties.
In bad news for the government, apart from its zealous base not likely to be affected by the tragedy, some 55.6 percent of respondents said they would be while 40 percent said they won’t be moved despite the catastrophe revealing safety problems on the railways that weren’t fixed.
Mitsotakis was still the favored choice to be be Prime Minister by 33.8-29.3 percent over SYRIZA leader and former premier Alexis Tsipras, but that also falling rapidly over previous surveys that had given the Conservative leader a bigger margin.
Some 46.8 percent blamed all governments for the disaster, not jut the current ruling New Democracy, which was faulted by only 13 percent, with 8.8 percent saying it was a stationmaster who admitted making an error having two trains on the same track.
Another 8.5 percent blamed the Transport Ministry and the former minister Kostas A. Karamanlis, 5.6 percent previous governments, 5.3 percent railway network owner OSE and operator TRAINOSE, 3.6 percent the Railway Regulatory Authority and 2.5 percent Hellenic Train, Greece having multiple railways agencies.
But 63.4 percent of people said they felt anger over the current state of Greece with elections coming, May 14 or May 21 seen the likely date, and 37.3 percent registering disappointment or resignation that nothing will change.
NOTHING QUIET ON GREEK FRONT
With Greece’s media largely having political leanings and not trusted some 62.9 percent of those polled had negative feelings about how the disaster was covered, no indication who they believe, if anyone and 62.5 percent negative about the government and Mitsotakis, no explanation for contradictions.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais wrote of the dilemma for the government as well as the other parties with Greeks feeling disillusioned and disenfranchised and looking for someone to blame even as they mourn.
Mitsotakis initially blamed the accident entirely on the stationmaster, who was the first to be charged. But as criticism mounted, he changed his position, the newspaper said.
“We take responsibility and we cannot, should not and do not want to hide behind a series of human errors,” he said about the poor state of the railways that weren’t fixed during his administration, nearing four years in power.
“There is a widespread feeling that the government is not guaranteeing the security of rail transportations and does not want to clear up what happened to avoid punishing those who were really responsible,” Tania Karagianni, the co-spokesperson for Syriza told EL PAÍS.
She said the government is trying to push the idea that “everyone was to blame” to avoid taking responsibility. “Citizens have formed an opinion and it, obviously, will be expressed at the polls on the day of the election,” she said.
But she didn’t mention the July 23, 2018 wildfires about 70 miles northeast of Athens that killed 103 people while SYRIZA was in power and didn’t have a disaster response plan and has seen a number of former officials on trial.
Sources close to the government told EL PAÍS that while the local media expect the elections to take place in May that Mitsotakis may push them back close to the mid-July deadline.
SYRIZA hasn’t benefitted from the government’s decline in popularity, still tied to its 4 ½ year reign that saw Tsipras break essentially all of promises and bury workers, pensioners and the poor with austerity measures he swore to reject.
Karagianni said that while SYRIZA privatized the rail services, selling them to Italian operator, that the operations was left in the hands of the state, tying the leftists to the troubled system.