ATHENS - Greeks began voting on Sunday in the first round of local elections that mark Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's first big electoral test since coming to power two years ago.
The vote, along with European Parliament elections a week later, are being closely watched as a gauge of sentiment towards Samaras's fragile coalition, which could be in jeopardy if the far-left Syriza and far-right Golden Dawn parties fare well.
Nearly 10 million Greeks are eligible to vote on Sunday to elect mayors and town councils for 325 municipalities as well as prefects - similar to state governors - for 13 regions across Greece, with a run-off vote to be held on May 25.
After six years of recession and repeated waves of austerity measures that have shrunk incomes and pushed unemployment over 26 per cent, the election is being fought as much on national issues like an unpopular EU/IMF bailout as on local issues.
"I'll vote for Golden Dawn or Syriza. Why vote for those who have robbed us? My husband's salary has shrunk to 600 euros, I'm out of work and my young son got a night-job for 400 euros to help us out," said 45-year old Vaso Stathakou, a mother of two.
"It's not a matter of ideology, I don't give a damn about their politics. My message is clear and I'll use every opportunity to send it: Get out!"
After falling in recent months, Greek bond yields have crept up again on fears that a new bout of political instability or a collapse of Samaras's government could unravel a feeble economic recovery taking root in the country after a prolonged recession.
Pollsters say the outcome of the first round could have an impact on the more crucial EU vote to be held next week, where polls show Samaras's New Democracy party lagging behind Syriza.
"To asset managers looking at Greece the vote is an event surrounded by uncertainty, hence the volatility," said Theodore Krintas, head of wealth management at Attica Bank, referring to the outcome of the EU election later this month.
"The uncertainty is due to the fact that the vote has been played up domestically as crucial to stability. Markets will reassess the situation after the vote."