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Athens restaurant owner Thanassis Trichias, left, and his mother Chara in Athens on Jan. 24.Eric Reguly/The Globe and Mail

A day ahead of an election that could reignite the euro zone crisis, the streets of Athens are strangely calm, even empty. It's cool and raining and a lot of the shops are closed. Many Athenians have returned to their home towns to vote.

But look hard and you will find pockets of activity. In the mid-afternoon, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called O Tseligkas is alive with patrons packed around small tables covered in deep-fried fish – the cook's specialty – feta and olives. But today, it is more than a restaurant; it is a hangout for supporters of Syriza, has been for several years, and the patrons are in a good mood. That's because the radical left anti-austerity party is expected to place first in the election

O Tseligkas is tucked away in the buzzy, run-down and decidedly unrich central Athens area called Exarcheia. Stacks of business cards from local Syriza candidates are scattered on the counters. The owner of the restaurant, Thanassis Trichias, explains that the area has always been a political hotbed, the traditional home of anarchist, anti-fascist and far-left groups who would rather sell their mothers than vote for the mainstream centre-right or centre-left parties that have governed Greece, mostly badly, since the 1974 revolution that sent the military junta packing. In December 2008, the murder of a teenage boy by a policeman in Exarcheia triggered rioting that inspired other riots across Greece.

Thrichias, 37, works the family owned restaurant with his mother Chara and, of course, they can't wait to see the election results Sunday night. "If Tsipras does even half of what he says he'll do, things will improve here," he says, referring to Syriza's youthful leader, Alexis Tsipras, who is running on platform that prime minister Antonis Samaras of the centre-right New Democracy party says would bankrupt Greece, potentially pushing it out of the euro zone. "We won't eat with golden spoons if Tsipras wins, but Samaras has run out of ideas."

Tsipras, 40, wants to keep Greece in the euro zone and claims he would keep a balanced budget. But he wants to end the German-inspired austerity that he and a good number of respected economics blame for turning a recession into an outright depression. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Greek economy has shrunk by more than a quarter, shattering entire industries and sending unemployment, at one point, to almost 28 per cent (it's now about 26 per cent) per cent. Youth unemployment remains stuck above 50 per cent. Tripras also wants to a deal that would bring down its crushing debt, a scenario that could well send it on a collision course with the "troika" who sponsored Greece's twin bailouts – the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In comment piece in the Financial Times on Jan. 20, Tripras said "On existing loans, we demand repayment terms that do not cause recession and do not push the people into more despair and poverty. "

Thrichias, the restaurant owner, says poverty is rife in his corner of Athens, though there are certainly harder hit areas. He says the restaurant is losing money and that 2014 was the worst year since the start of the crisis, even though the pro-austerity Samaras government touted it as the turnaround year. "We are losing money," he says. "We dropped prices a lot and have not put them back up. A lot of my regular clients aren't working and sometimes I give meals away free to my friends."

Thanassis says he's not worried that Tsipras's debt negotiation efforts will backfire – "he wants to reduce the debt, not erase it" – but other Greeks are not so sure. Athens taxi driver Nick Armao, 32, says he will not vote for Syriza because he thinks the debt talks will fail and trigger a default that could wreck the country's fragile banking system. "If there is a banking crisis, and you have a mortgage, you could lose your house."

Constantinos Garyfallou, a Greek-Australian who owns a cafe next to Syntagma Square, across from the parliament building, says he will not vote for either Syriza or the ruling New Democracy party because he doesn't believe any of their promises will come to fruition. But he admits that the allure of "hope and change" will almost certainly ensure a Syriza victory. "The way I look at is like this," he says. "There are two boxes. We know the New Democracy box is full of snakes. The Syriza box is black. You don't know what's in it. It could be full of good things or evils, so you gamble."

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