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Biden-Harris Clash Renews Controversy Over US School Busing

The first Democratic presidential debate for the 2020 elections brought a decades-old civil rights issue back into the public spotlight: whether to bus children to racially integrate schools.

One of the most defining moments of the debate came when U.S. Senator Kamala Harris challenged former Vice President Joe Biden’s record for not supporting the type of busing that she experienced as a black schoolgirl in California.

The exchange garnered headlines and brought the topic of busing, which had been a national issue in the 1970s but had largely fallen out of the public conversation, back into the spotlight.

Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator for California Kamala Harris speaks to the press in the Spin Room after the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

What is busing?

Busing was a tool that many U.S. communities used to overcome racial segregation in public schools.

Following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, legal racial segregation in schools was outlawed across the United States. However, because of demographic trends and housing policies, many U.S. neighborhoods remained segregated, and as a result schools were effectively segregated because students attended schools in neighborhoods where they lived. 

In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, courts ruled that local jurisdictions were not doing enough to promote desegregation in schools and began mandating busing to address the problem. Federal agencies oversaw and enforced busing efforts, including collecting data about the race of students and withholding money from noncompliant schools.

Who was bused?

Both black students took buses to majority-white schools and white students to majority-black schools in court-ordered busing.

However, Brett Gadsden, the author of a book about desegregation efforts in Delaware, “Between North and South: Delaware, Desegregation, and the Myth of American Sectionalism,” said, “African American students disproportionally shouldered the burden” of efforts to desegregate schools.

Gadsden, an associate professor of history at Northwestern University, said black students were forced to travel longer distances and for many more years than white students.

In this Sept. 26, 1957, file photo, members of the 101st Airborne Division take up positions outside Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., after President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered them into the city to enforce integration at the school.

Why was it controversial?

Busing proved to be intensely controversial nationwide. Supporters argued busing was necessary to integrate schools and to give black and white students equal access to resources and opportunities.

Critics argued that busing was dangerous and costly, and many parents did not want their children to have to travel great distances to get to school. 

While much of the opposition to busing came from whites, the black community was also divided about its merits. 

Gadsden said black critics cited the burden their children had to shoulder in terms of distance traveled and time spent on buses. They also complained that historically black schools were closed, and black administrators and teachers lost their jobs as a result of busing policies, while similar demands were not made of white schools, Gadsden said. 

In Boston, anti-busing protests turned violent in 1974, with demonstrators throwing bricks and bottles at school buses.

Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said in a Twitter post following the Democratic debate that busing was so unpopular in the 1970s that Democrats running for office often had a choice to “be a profile in courage and lose, or oppose busing in whole or in part & win to fight another day on stronger ground.”

Biden’s stance

During the 1970s when Biden was a freshman U.S. senator representing Delaware, he worked with conservative senators to oppose federally mandated busing. 

In a 1975 interview with a Delaware newspaper that was first resurfaced by The Washington Post, Biden said, “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’”

During the Democratic debate, Biden defended his position against mandated busing in the 1970s, arguing that he did not oppose voluntary busing by communities, only federal mandates. “I did not oppose busing in America; what I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education,” he said.

Democratic presidential hopeful former US Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaks during the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign.

Harris responded by saying the federal government needed to be able to step in and mandate busing in some areas because “there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America.”

Schools today

While some communities still champion voluntary busing measures, most busing efforts ended by the turn of the century. Local and national court rulings in the 1990s said many communities had succeeded in improving the integration of their schools and allowed busing programs to end. 

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA said in a May report  to mark the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, that segregation in schools is again on the rise and has been growing “unchecked” for nearly three decades, “placing the promise of Brown at grave risk.”

The report said white students, on average, attend a school in which 69% of the students are white, Latino students attend schools in which 55% of the students are Latino, and black students attend schools with a combined black and Latino enrollment averaging 67%. 

Gadsden agreed there is “a lot of segregation in schools now” but said there is little political will to go back to the era of busing. “Federal courts now are not particularly sympathetic to challenges to school segregation,” he said, also noting there is no great appetite in the U.S. Congress to introduce measures to advance school desegregation.  

After the debate, Harris told reporters that “busing is a tool among many that should be considered.” however, when pressed on whether she supported federally mandated busing today, she said she would not unless society became as opposed to integration as it was in the 1970s.

Some critics say Harris’ position on busing today is not that much different from Biden’s.

US Defeats Netherlands 2-0 in Women’s World Cup Final

The heavily favored United States team has defeated Netherlands 2-0 in the women’s World Cup soccer final in Lyon, France, securing its fourth title and winning back-to-back tournaments for the first time.

The Americans defeated four other European teams — Sweden, Spain, France and England — on their way to the final, and dominated Sunday in defeating the reigning European champion Dutch.

Football analysts say the United States women’s national team went into the match as favorites because of their greater depth and experience than the Dutch.

One of the top American players, Megan Rapinoe, who sat out the semi-final win over the British with a slight hamstring strain, scored the opening goal for the U.S. side on a penalty kick in the 61st minute. Rose Lavelle added a goal in the 69th minute to seal the victory.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated the team on their win via Twitter.

Congratulations to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play. America is proud of you all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 7, 2019

The U.S. also won the world title in 1991, 1999 and 2015, along with Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. Germany is the only other country to win multiple women’s World Cups, in 2003 and 2007.

Former U.S. soccer star Julie Foudy explained before the match what was at stake for the Americans.

“They’ve done all the hard stuff. Weathering the storm that was the Spanish game. Beating the hosts in Paris. Knocking out a very good English team. But they … must bring it home to secure their legacy, especially against a team that doesn’t have the same depth of talent and which is playing on less rest,” she said.

US team celebrates after winning the Women’s World Cup final soccer match at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, July 7, 2019.

Even as its success in the tournament earns it unprecedented acclaim at home, the U.S. women’s team is suing the country’s soccer federation for equal pay with members of country’s much less successful men’s national team. The pay disparity is pronounced, with female soccer players’ base salary roughly $30,000 less a year than their male counterparts. The players agreed to submit to arbitration following the end of the tournament.

The soccer federation awarded the men’s team a $5.4 million bonus after it lost in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, while handing the women’s team $1.7 million when it won in 2015.

FILE – Megan Rapinoe eyes the ball during the Women’s World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Spain and the United States at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, June 24, 2019.

Rapinoe has also feuded Presiden Trump, saying that in opposition to his presidency she would not accept an invitation to go to the White House if the Americans won the title.

Trump said in response, “Megan should WIN before she TALKS,” and invited the whole team whether it wins or loses the title.


Malawi President Warns of Action Against Protest Organizers

Malawi President Peter Mutharika has warned of unspecified action against the leaders of violent protests following his narrow recent election victory. 

Mutharika, whose legitimacy is being challenged by key opposition leaders, said during the country’s 55th Independence Day celebration in Blantyre on Saturday that he has learned the protests have nothing to do with election results, but are aimed at toppling his government. The protests organizers dispute this and say they cannot be intimidated.

Thousands of Malawians attended the Independence Day Celebration at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre, July 6, 2019. (VOA/Lameck Masina)

The celebrations started with a morning of prayer, with religious leaders appealing for the return of peace and unity to a country now torn by political violence.
Malawi has faced street protests, which in many cases turned violent, since the Malawi Elections Commission announced on May 27 that President Mutharika had been re-elected.
The MEC declared Mutharika the winner with 39 percent of the vote, and said opposition Malawi Congress Party leader Lazarus Chakwera was a close second with 35 percent.
Vice President Saulos Chilima’s opposition United Transformation Movement Party came in third with 20 percent.
Chakwera and Chilima are challenging the election results in court, alleging ballot-stuffing and the use of a popular correction fluid to alter ballots.
Both opposition leaders shunned Mutharika’s Independence Day speech, in which he called for peace.

“This is the day we must raise our flags of patriotism,” said Mutharika. “This is a day everyone must show how we love this country. Malawi is the only country that we have. If we destroy this country, as we are currently doing, we have destroyed ourselves.”

Heavily armed security personel was deployed after resports that some people were planning to disturb the celebrations. (VOA/Lameck Masina)

However Mutharika had harsh words for the organizers of the protests. He said he knows that opposition leaders want to use the protests to unseat him because they lost the election “big time.”   

“Let me assure them that they will take over this government over my dead body. They will never, never take over this country. Let me warn them,” he said.
Mutharika said his government will soon hold accountable those who are leading the violent protests.
Gift Trapence is the deputy chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Forum, a civil society group organizing the protests.

“We are not targeting unseating the government.  But our issue is with Dr. Jane Ansah, who failed to manage the election,” said Trapence.
Trapence said the protests will continue until Ansah resigns.
“You cannot be intimidated because for us to do demonstration is in our [Malawi] constitution. So, for us to be intimidated because people were exercising their rights, that’s something regrettable,” he said. 
Political commentator Vincent Kondowe said Mutharika could have used the occasion to call for peace talks with the opposition leaders.

“I think the president coult have gone further and reach out to the opposition and probably call for dialogue and then thereafter, moving forward peacefully. Because what it means now, where the tempers are already very high, it sparks more violent protests, on the side of opposition,” said Kondowe.

The protesters said Friday that they would hold another protest in Blantyre on Monday should Ansah fail to resign by before then.





US Call for Syria Troops Divides German Coalition

Discord broke out in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition Sunday, after the United States urged the country to send ground troops to Syria as Washington looks to withdraw from the region.

“We want ground troops from Germany to partly replace our soldiers” in the area as part of the anti-Islamic State coalition, U.S. special representative on Syria James Jeffrey had told German media including Die Welt newspaper.

Jeffrey, who was visiting Berlin for Syria talks, added that he expects an answer this month.

Last year U.S. President Donald Trump declared victory against IS and ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 American troops from Syria.

A small number have remained in northeastern Syria, an area not controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and Washington is pushing for increased military support from other members of the international coalition against IS.

“We are looking for volunteers who want to take part here and among other coalition partners,” Jeffrey said.

A clear rejection of the American request came from Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).

“There will be no German ground troops in Syria with us,” tweeted a member of the interim SPD leadership, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel.

“I don’t see people wanting that among our coalition partners” in Merkel’s centre-right CDU, he added.

But deputy conservative parliamentary leader Johann Wadephul told news agency DPA that Germany should “not reflexively reject” the US call for troops.

“Our security, not the Americans’, is being decided in this region,” added Wadephul, seen as a candidate to succeed Ursula von der Leyen as defense minister if she is confirmed as European Commission chief.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.

‘This isn’t a banana republic’

Washington has two goals in northeastern Syria: to support the US-backed Kurdish forces that expelled IS from northern Syria as they are increasingly threatened by Turkey, and to prevent a potential IS resurgence in the war-torn country.

The US is hoping Europe will help, pressuring Britain, France and now Germany, which has so far deployed surveillance aircraft and other non-combat military support in Syria.

However Germany’s history makes military spending and foreign adventures controversial.

Berlin sent soldiers to fight abroad for the first time since World War II in 1994, and much of the political spectrum and the public remains suspicious of such deployments.

As well as the SPD, the ecologist Greens, liberal Free Democrats and Left party all urged Merkel to reject the US request for troops.

The US appeal comes after Trump has repeatedly urged Berlin to increase its defence spending, last month calling Germany “delinquent” over its contributions to NATO’s budget.

But such criticisms have more often hardened resistance to forking out more on the military rather than loosening the country’s purse strings.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told business newspaper Handelsblatt on Saturday that Trump wanted “vassals” rather than allies.

“I’d have liked the federal government to tell him once or twice that it’s none of his business” how much Germany spends on defense, Schroeder said.

“This isn’t a banana republic here!”




British Ambassador: Trump ‘Radiates Insecurity’

A British newspaper reported Sunday that Britain’s ambassador to the United States has described U.S. President Donald Trump as “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional.”

The Mail published the highly unflattering portrait of the U.S. leader, quoting comments allegedly taken from a cache of leaked diplomatic memos from Ambassador Kim Darroch.  

According to the newspaper, Darroch described Trump as someone who “radiates insecurity” and who is “incompetent.”

“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal,” Darroch is reported to have written.

The ambassador cautioned British officials, however, not to dismiss Trump’s chances for re-election, saying the president has a “credible path” to another four years in the White House.  

The Mail said Darroch warned that Trump could “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator.”

Britain’s Foreign Office has not denied the comments.  A spokeswoman said ambassadors are expected “to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country.”  She added, “We pay them to be candid.”


Trump ‘Incompetent,’ British Envoy to US Being Quoted as Saying

Updated July 7, 5:05 pm

A British newspaper reported Sunday that Britain’s ambassador to the United States has described U.S. President Donald Trump as inept and uniquely dysfunctional.

The tabloid Mail on Sunday published the highly unflattering portrait of the U.S. leader, quoting comments allegedly taken from a cache of leaked diplomatic memos from Ambassador Kim Darroch.  

According to the newspaper, Darroch described Trump as someone who “radiates insecurity” and who is “incompetent.”

“We don’t really believe this administration is going to become substantially more normal,” Darroch is reported to have written.

The ambassador cautioned British officials, however, not to dismiss Trump’s chances for re-election, saying the president has a “credible path” to another four years in the White House.  

The report said Darroch warned that Trump could “emerge from the flames, battered but intact, like (Arnold) Schwarzenegger in the final scenes of The Terminator.”

Britain’s Foreign Office has not denied the comments.  A spokeswoman said ambassadors are expected “to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country.”  She added, “We pay them to be candid.”

The Foreign Office called the leaks “mischievous behavior” but said it would not harm the relationship between the British government and the Trump White House.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the subject.


Independence Day Celebration Brings Out Trump Supporters and Skeptics

Americans who turned out on the National Mall in Washington to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day ran the gamut from pro-Donald Trump to anti-Trump to mildly optimistic about the Trump-style celebration and a possible second term for the unconventional president.

“He loves our country,” said one supporter, decked out in a tank top emblazoned with “USA 45” (Trump is the 45th U.S. president) and a well-worn red, white and blue cowboy hat adorned with stars and stripes. “He stands for us United States citizens. He has brought pride back to being an American.”

Next to him stood a woman in a MAGA (Make America Great Again) baseball cap, who said Thursday, “I’m everything people think I’m not. I’m from California, Latina, immigrant family, and I love America.”

The two Trump supporters were surrounded by a group of compatriots decked out in patriotic clothing, singing songs and sweating together in the heat and humidity.

Caroline Sarajian shows off her “Armenians for Trump” banner, July 4, 2019, on the National Mall in Washington.

Caroline Sarajian brandished an “Armenians for Trump” banner. She explained why she wants to see Trump re-elected in 2020. 

“He’s great for the country,” she said. “In every single way he’s promised, he’s delivered. And he can be trusted. His motives are clear. His motives are for the people.”

Asked what she thinks about Trump’s claim that investigations of his campaign’s ties to Russia amount to a “witch hunt,” she agreed vigorously. 

“It’s a complete witch hunt right now that’s been going on for two years. The collusion delusion,” she said.

Protesters move a Baby Trump balloon into position before Independence Day celebrations, July 4, 2019, on the National Mall in Washington.

Different point of view

Not all on the National Mall Thursday were Trump supporters, however.

“I think it’s very clear that the president is politicizing a nonpartisan event, particularly by putting himself in the middle of it,” said Amanda Whitehead from Berkeley, California. “I’m here today because people on our borders are being held today in inhumane conditions for inhumane reasons, and not being given the help that I believe their country promises them. And that other people are coming from terrible, terrible situations and need assistance.”

David Barrows, dressed in a shirt and tie with a “Dump Trump” baseball cap, said, “I’m here to stand up for justice and democracy. I’m against what Trump stands for. I’m against how he treats the immigrants, separating children from parents and putting them in deplorable conditions on the border.”

He said he did not approve of Trump’s addition of tanks and fighter jets to the celebration.

“I’m against this event because it celebrates the military,” he said. “It celebrates violence over peace. It celebrates strength — the bad use of strength. … The arrogance of the United States. I’m tired of having to be ashamed of my country.”

People gather on the National Mall during the “Salute to America” Fourth of July event at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, July 4, 2019.

Here to celebrate

Others on the Mall said they preferred celebration to controversy.

“It’s not about him,” Phil Hind of New Market, Maryland, said of the president’s attendance at the festivities. “He makes everything about him. … I’m more here for the show, though. It should be fun.”

Mother and son Carrie and Josh Wetzel came from St. Louis, Missouri.

“We’re here for America and for the Fourth of July,” Carrie Wetzel said. “We came and did the celebration [in Washington] 18 years ago. The celebrations were great and the fireworks were great and everything celebrated America. I don’t think there’s any need to add anything to that.”

Her son Josh was optimistic that a change in tradition might not be so bad.

Speaking before the president’s speech, he said, “If he can do this in the right way, he can really celebrate America and be a good thing for the Fourth of July. … I feel like it could be more uniting [than divisive] if everybody could just come together and celebrate our independence.”

Sources: Jeffrey Epstein Arrested in NY on Sex Charges

Updated, July 7, 2019, 5:15 a.m.

Wealthy financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested Saturday in New York on sex-trafficking charges involving allegations that date to the 2000s, according to law enforcement officials. 

Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager who once counted as friends former President Bill Clinton, Great Britain’s Prince Andrew, and President Donald Trump, was taken into federal custody, according to two officials.

The officials spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the pending case. 

Epstein is expected to appear Monday in Manhattan federal court. A message was sent to his attorney seeking comment. 

Epstein’s arrest was first reported by The Daily Beast. 

Plea deal scrutiny

The arrest comes amid renewed scrutiny of a once-secret plea deal that ended a federal investigation against him.  

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of soliciting and procuring a person younger than 18 for prostitution. The deal ended a federal investigation that could have landed Epstein in prison for life.

Instead, he was sentenced to 13 months in jail and was required to reach financial settlements with dozens of his once-teenage victims. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender. 

Trump labor secretary

Epstein’s deal was overseen by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, who is now Trump’s labor secretary. Acosta has defended the plea deal as appropriate under the circumstances, though the White House said in February that it was “looking into” his handling of the deal.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra of Florida ruled earlier this year that Epstein’s victims should have been consulted under federal law about the deal, and he is now weighing whether to invalidate the non-prosecution agreement, or NPA, that protected Epstein from federal charges. 

It was not immediately clear whether the cases involved the same victims since nearly all have remained anonymous. 

Federal prosecutors

Federal prosecutors recently filed court papers in Florida case contending Epstein’s deal must stand. 

“The past cannot be undone; the government committed itself to the NPA, and the parties have not disputed that Epstein complied with its provisions,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.

They acknowledged, however, that the failure to consult victims “fell short of the government’s dedication to serve victims to the best of its ability” and that prosecutors “should have communicated with the victims in a straightforward and transparent way.”

The victims in the Florida case have until Monday to respond to the Justice Department’s filing. 

According to court records in Florida, authorities say at least 40 underage girls were brought into Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for what turned into sexual encounters after female fixers looked for suitable girls locally and in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. 

Some girls were also allegedly brought to Epstein’s homes in New York City, New Mexico and a private Caribbean island, according to court documents. 

Joao Gilberto, Brazilian Bossa Nova Pioneer, Dies at 88

Joao Gilberto, a Brazilian singer, guitarist and songwriter considered one of the fathers of the bossa nova genre that gained global popularity in the 1960s and became an iconic sound of the South American nation, died Saturday, his son said. He was 88.

Joao Marcelo said his father had been battling health issues though no official cause of his death in Rio de Janeiro was given. “His struggle was noble. He tried to maintain his dignity in the light of losing his independence,” Marcelo posted on Facebook.

A fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova emerged in the late 1950s and gained a worldwide following in the 1960s, pioneered by Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, who composed the iconic The Girl From Ipanema that was performed by Gilberto and others. His wife, Astrud Gilberto, made her vocal debut in the song.  

Began guitar at 14

Self-taught, Gilberto said he discovered music at age 14 when he held a guitar in his hands for the first time. With his unique playing style and modern jazz influences, he created the beat that defined bossa nova, helping launch the genre with his song Bim-Bom.

By 1961, Gilberto had finished the albums that would make bossa nova known around the world: Chega de SaudadeLove, a Smile and a Flower; and Joao Gilberto. His 1964 album Getz/Gilberto with U.S. saxophonist Stan Getz sold millions of copies.

“It was Joao Gilberto, the greatest genius of Brazilian music, who was the definitive influence on my music,” singer Gal Costa wrote on social media. “He will be missed but his legacy is very important to Brazil and to the world.”

FILE – Joao Gilberto walks on stage at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 24, 2008.

Born in Bahia in northeastern Brazil, Gilberto moved to Rio de Janeiro at a young age. He was influenced by U.S. jazz greats and recorded songs in the United States, where he lived for much of the 1960s and 1970.

Over his career he won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for six, and the U.S. jazz magazine DownBeat in 2009 named him one of the 75 great guitarists in history and one of the five top jazz singers.

An entire subsequent generation of Brazilian musicians, including Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, are considered his disciples.

Journalist and bossa nova expert Ruy Castro called the death of Gilberto a “monumental” loss.

Castro wrote in his book The Wave that Built in the Sea that Gilberto loved soccer and was a fan of the Fluminense club, whose games he liked to watch with a guitar in his hands.

‘A mystique’

“He managed to create a mystique about him abroad, being who he was and not even speaking English,” he told the Globo television station.

The musician had spent his final years wrapped in legal troubles, debts and disputes with his children. His last live performance was in 2008 and he canceled a commemorative show to mark his 80th year because of health problems.

With little interest in giving interviews, he’d become known as the “reclusive genius” in the streets of Leblon, the neighborhood in a southern part of Rio where he lived but was seldom seen.  

His funeral is to be held on Monday. He is survived by three children.

Singer Daniela Mercury called Gilberto a “genius who revolutionized popular Brazilian music. He taught us how to sing in the most beautiful way in the world.”

“Go in peace, maestro,” she wrote.

Greeks Vote as Leftist Syriza Days in Power Seem Numbered

Greeks vote on Sunday in a snap election that polls say will bring opposition conservatives to power, ending four years of leftist rule blamed for saddling the country with more debt and mismanaging crises.

The election is largely a showdown of two contenders.

Incumbent Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party is on one side — a 44-year-old radical leftist who stormed to power in 2015 vowing to tear up the austerity rule book, only to relent weeks later.

On the other side of the fence is Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 51, of New Democracy. He is from a famous political dynasty; he hopes to follow the footsteps of his father as prime minister, while a sister of his was foreign minister.

Opinion polls put New Democracy’s lead at up to 10 percentage points, potentially giving it an absolute majority in the country’s 300-seat parliament. Voting starts at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and ends at 7 p.m., with first official projections expected about two hours after voting ends.

Financial crisis

Greece endured a debilitating financial crisis from 2010 that saw the country needing a cash lifeline from its European Union partners three times.

The economy is the public’s main concern, said Thomas Gerakis of pollsters MARC.

“Voters want to know the government can give Greeks a better tomorrow,” he said. Some voters wanted to punish Syriza for reneging on past pledges, he added.

Tsipras was also roundly criticized for mismanagement of crises on his watch, and for brokering a deeply unpopular deal to end a dispute over the name of neighoring North Macedonia.

One hundred people died in a devastating fire that swept through a seaside village east of Athens last year; while Mitsotakis was quick to the scene to console survivors, Tsipras was out of the public eye for several days.

Greece wrapped up its last economic adjustment program in 2018, but remains under surveillance from lenders to ensure no future fiscal slippage. Though economic growth has returned to the country, unemployment is the eurozone’s highest at 18 percent.

Main opposition New Democracy conservative party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses supporters during a pre-election rally in Athens, July 4, 2019.

New Democracy has promised to invest in creating well-paying jobs with decent benefits. The outgoing government, meanwhile, hopes voters will reward it for upping the minimum wage by 11 percent and reinstating collective bargaining.

Mitsotakis hopes that his reforms will persuade lenders to show more flexibility in due course.

“The first thing that is necessary for economic growth to be boosted is a stable government, a strong majority in the next parliament,” Mitsotakis told Reuters.

Tsipras said that a vote cast in favor of Mitsotakis would go to the political establishment that forced Greece to the edge of the precipice in the first place.

“Each and every one of you must now consider if, after so many sacrifices, we should return to the days of despair,” he told voters, wrapping up the pre-election campaign on Friday.