Fears that Greece could crash out of the eurozone eased on Sunday after initial results put conservatives New Democracy on course for a narrow victory against the anti-bailout Syriza party in the country's parliamentary elections.
Greece’s place in the eurozone looked a little more secure on Sunday with the pro-bailout conservatives on course for a narrow victory in the country’s make-or-break parliamentary elections.
With around 66 % of votes counted the New Democracy party, which favours Greece’s EU/IMF bailout deal, looked set to gain around 30% of the vote, just ahead of the anti-bailout radical left-wing Syriza bloc on 27%.
The socialist Pasok party, which also favours the bailout deal, was credited with around 12.3% of the vote.
Because Greek election rules automatically grant the party that comes first an extra 50 bonus seats in Greece’s 300-member parliament, New Democracy looks set to win around 128 seats in total.
Those seats combined with Pasok’s estimated 33 would be enough to form a parliamentary majority in favour of keeping Greece in the eurozone.
The parties are set to begin tough coalition talks over the coming days, but New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said the result would be welcomed around the world.
'Greece's place in Europe not in doubt'
“I am relieved,” he told Reuters news agency. “I am relieved for Greece and Europe. As soon as possible we will form a government.”
“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,” he said.
FRANCE 24’s european affairs editor Christophe Robeet said European leaders could breathe a sigh of relief after Syriza’s apparent defeat.
“They had all made it clear that if the result had favoured Syriza, it would have meant the end of Greece in the eurozone,” he said.
Pasok’s leader Evangelos Venizelos said on Sunday he was ready to form a coalition with New Democracy conservatives but only if other left-wing parties were included.
"A government of national responsibility should include at least New Democracy, Pasok, the Democratic Left and Syriza,” Pasok leader Venizelos said, adding: “No decision can be taken without this national unity.”
Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras, who had vowed to immediately tear up the bailout deal, conceded defeat late on Sunday but gave a warning that the turmoil that has enveloped Greece was not yet over.
“We propose to upset the austerity measures and the bailout,” Tsipris said. He has ruled out forming a coalition that would stick to the conditions of the bailout deal.
Europe holds its breath
Sunday’s vote had always been billed as a referendum on the €130 billion bailout deal and the accompanying painful austerity measures demanded by Greece’s eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias is hoping Sunday’s election will help end the turmoil that has enveloped Greece since the parliamentary elections on May 6 failed to produce an outright winner.
Coalition talks that followed the May ballot ended in deadlock.
“I hope that the vote will lead us to the formation of a stable government that will immediately address the problems troubling the Greek people,” Papoulias said after casting his vote on Sunday.
The president will officially invite the parties to hold talks in the coming days to try and form a viable government. Europe will continue to hold its breath until a deal is done.
Greek far-left leader attacks austerity and Merkel
The leader of Greece’s far-left Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras, has sharply criticised austerity politics in an interview with the BBC, saying that if the "disease of austerity destroys Greece, it will spread to the rest of Europe". Tsipras’ party is tipped to come out ahead in the country’s new general elections to be held on June 17.
Tsipras went on to accuse German Chancellor Angela Merkel of “playing poker with the lives of people”.
In a separate interview on Greek state NET TV, Tsipras also made clear that if the country’s creditors cut off future loans, Athens would stop its debt repayments.
“Our intention is not to take unilateral action, unless we are forced to do so. If they don’t give us the installments, we won’t pay the loansharks”.
The president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, urged Greek leaders to form a new government quickly and promised it would have EU support.
"We will continue to stand by Greece as a member of the EU family and the euro area. We stand ready to continue assisting Greece," he said, in a message on his Twitter account.
As election results filtered through on Sunday Berlin looked ready to reward the Greeks for opting for pro-bailout New Democracy.
Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin was ready to discuss giving Greece more time to meet its bailout conditions, though ruling out “substantial changes in the engagements".
'Democracy cannot be terrorised'
In a sign of the high tension surrounding the ballot, two grenades were found outside the offices of prominent private media group Skai TV on Sunday morning.
Police said the grenades, which were operational, were found after an anonymous telephone warning. There was no explosion.
“Democracy cannot be terrorised,” said government spokesman Dmitris Tsiodras in a warning to whoever had sent the grenades.
Although most Greeks are opposed to further austerity, many are sceptical a new government can modify the terms of the bailout.
“We signed something and we cannot just take it back,” 68-year-old Emmanuel Kamkoutis told AFP news agency after casting his vote.
Greece has been forced to seek bailouts twice. A first one worth €110 billion was dished out in 2010 and then a second €130 billion payment was handed over in 2012.
Greece also had €107 worth of private debt written off as part of the deal.
The election result will please those Greeks who are in favour of remaining in the euro but there is still a long road to travel on the road to economic recovery.
“This doesn’t mean it is over. Greece has been in recession for five years and it may need more bailouts,” said FRANCE 24’s Robeet.
Date created : 2012-06-17