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Left-wing Syriza party wins Greece election

Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP | Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates with crowds after his party's victory at the Greek general elections in Athens on September 20, 2015

Greek voters returned Alexis Tsipras to power with a strong election victory on Sunday, ensuring the charismatic leftist remains Greece’s dominant political figure despite caving in to European demands for a bailout he once opposed.

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With half of votes counted, Syriza was ahead on 35.54 percent of ballots, with its nearest challenger, the conservative New Democracy, on 28.07 percent.

That tallied with exit polls, which put Syriza on course to win 33 and 35 percent of the vote, compared to 28.5 to 30 percent for New Democracy.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was on course to take third place, with 6.5 percent to 8 percent of the vote, the exit poll showed.

Tsipras hailed the election win a “great victory” and said that the Greek people had given his party a “clear mandate” during a late-evening victory speech in the capital of Athens.

A LOOK AT GREECE's ALEXIS TSIPRAS

However, he warned that a recovery of Greece’s long-embattled economy would “not come magically, but it will come through hard work”.

New Democracy’s leader Vangelis Meimarakis conceded defeat shortly after the exit poll figures were announced, offering his congratulations to Tsipras.

“It seems citizens did not change their mind," he told reporters. "I congratulate him and urge him to create the government which is needed and come to parliament."

Right-wing party set to reform coalition

Meanwhile, jubilant Syriza supporters cheered, waved party flags and danced outside the group's main electoral centre as it became clear Tsipras would return to power.

Earlier, a tired-looking Tsipras was hugged by party supporters as he arrived at Syriza headquarters, waving to the crowd gathered outside.

If Syriza’s current vote share holds until all ballots are counted, it will gain 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament and New Democracy 75, meaning Tsipras will still need to put together a coalition to form a government.

'A STRONGER MANDATE'

But that coalition already appeared to be in place Sunday evening, with Tsipras confirming the right-wing nationalist party, the Independent Greeks, would join Syriza as its junior partner in government, as it did to first bring Tsipras to power nine months ago.

The party is on course to win 10 seats in parliament, enough to give the coalition a small majority.

During the campaign, Meimarakis had said his party would join Syriza in a national unity government – but Tsipras has repeatedly ruled this out.

Greek people ‘rewarding’ Tsipras

After a tumultuous seven months in office, Tsipras resigned as PM in August and called snap elections, gambling that crisis-weary Greeks would give him a new mandate despite being forced to continue with austerity measures as part of a bailout deal brokered with the country’s creditors.

Agreeing to that deal saw more than two dozen of Tsipras’s lawmakers abandon him, many saying he had betrayed his principles. He argued that his tough negotiating stance softened the blow of austerity and persuaded creditors to agree a restructuring of Greek debt.

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Syriza MEP Stelios Kouloglou said Syriza’s lead in the exit poll suggested people were “rewarding” the efforts made by Tsipras during those negotiations.

“Of course he had to compromise in the end but he was sincere … people want to give him a second chance to govern the country,” he said.

The new anti-bailout Popular Unity party, formed by rebel Syriza members who objected to the bailout, was projected to fall short of the minimum 3 percent of votes needed in order to enter the Greek parliament.

The election is being watched closely outside Greece because the winner will need to oversee the deep economic reforms required for the new 86-billion-euro loan from Greece’s eurozone partners.

The new government will also have to arrange a recapitalisation of the country’s banks, and the unwinding of capital controls imposed in June to prevent an implosion of the financial system.

Sunday’s vote is the third national ballot this year, after the general election in January that brought Tsipras to power, as well as the referendum in July on whether to accept a new bailout deal and austerity plan from the European Union.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

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