The pro-austerity New Democracy Conservatives won the critical June 17 elections, edging out the anti-austerity Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) but without enough of the vote to form a majority government, thus necessitating a coalition.
As central banks stood ready to intervene in case of financial turmoil, Greece held its second national election in six weeks after an inconclusive ballot on May 6 and the subsequent collapse of coalition talks.
With the 99.85% of the vote counted, the Greek election results showed New Democracy coming first with 29.6 percent of the vote and 129 of the 300 seats in Parliament. The radical left anti-bailout Syriza party had 26.9 percent and 71 seats and the pro-bailout Socialist PASOK party came in third with 12.3 percent of the vote and 33 seats. The extremist far-right Golden Dawn party had steady support, getting 6.9 percent of the vote and 18 seats.
The bitter battle pitted New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, against SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras, who had vowed to tear up a bailout deal that Samaras signed with international lenders in return for rescue loans but at the price of big pay cuts and tax hikes for Greek workers and slashed pensions.
Earlier in the evening, Tsipras called Samaras to congratulate him but later rejected any notion of dealing with New Democracy or PASOK.
“We shall be present in any developments from the position of the main opposition,” he said, stressing that that “everyone must know that the measures of austerity and the selling off of state property will not be able to move forward because they lack popular legitimacy.”
The results brought a sigh of relief to Greece’s lenders, the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) who provided Greece with an initial bailout two years ago of $152 billion and approved a second in February for $173 billion more, but said it depended on Greece continuing with more reforms, including privatization and another $15 billion in cuts.
Samaras told a news conference that, “This is a victory for Europe,” reiterating his campaign warnings that a SYRIZA victory could have pushed Greece out of the Eurozone and back to the ancient drachma and ruin.
“The Greek people voted today to stay on the European course and remain in the Eurozone… there will be no more adventures, Greece’s place in Europe will not be put in doubt,” Samaras said. He said voters chose “policies that will bring jobs, growth, justice and security.”
The ballot was watched closely in Europe and around the world and was posed as a referendum as to whether Greeks would return the parties who had cut their pay and raised their taxes but said they could keep Greece in the Eurozone, or whether anti-austerity parties would prevail.
PASOK’s new leader, Evangelos Venizelos, said any coalition has to include SYRIZA as some 57 percent of Greeks had voted against austerity and the two once-dominant parties. Greeks had been protesting, striking and rioting for two years against austerity but in the end believed Samaras’ doomsday predictions of an economic Armageddon unless pro-austerity parties won, although he said he would now try to renegotiate some of the terms of the deal he and Venizelos signed when sharing a brief hybrid government.
None of the party leaders said Greece could afford a third election and more political and economic uncertainty, but some analysts said a government without anti-austerity voices would not last. “Today the Greek people can and should ensure the cohesion of society and the unity of the nation,” Venizelos said. “Tomorrow we can and must have a government. No other scenario except a government of shared national responsibility will offer the solution that this country needs,” he added.
Party leaders have already started informal talks about forming a new coalition government and by midnight Athens time, Samaras was already reported to have been trying to reach out to other parties.