After two elections and bitter wrangling that divided the country, Greeks have given a narrow victory to the New Democracy Conservatives who supported austerity measures required by international lenders, but without enough of the vote to create a government.
A likely coalition loomed with another pro-bailout party, the PASOK Socialists, which would allow the two parties that have controlled Greece's government for the last four decades to share power.
"This is a victory for Europe," New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras told reporters as his party headed for a narrow win, gaining 29.7% of the vote compared to 26.9% for opposition group Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). "We will be present in developments from the position of the main opposition party."
The Socialists, under new leader Evangelos Venizelos, a former finance minister who doubled income and property taxes and taxed the poor, finished a distant third with 12.3%. Together, New Democracy and PASOK earned 42% of the vote, an improvement over the 32% the parties earned in the May 6th election.
Combined with the 50-seat bonus in parliament that New Democracy earned by receiving the most votes, the New Democracy/PASOK coalition would hold a 12-vote majority in the 300-seat parliament.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who wanted to tear up Greece's bailout deal with the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, said he won't join any government with New Democracy. Samaras had warned that Tsipras' victory would have driven the country out of the eurozone, back to the drachma, and complete Greece's catastrophe.
Most Greeks -- who said they wanted to remain in the eurozone but despised the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions imposed on them for two years -- are still opposed to the two traditional parties. Samaras will have to convince a third party among the seven elected to join a coalition so the new government can have any sense of legitimacy, some analysts said.
Venizelos said SYRIZA would have to be included or that the new government could face more of the often violent demonstrations that brought down a previous PASOK government last year.
"Greece's position in Europe will not be put in doubt. Fear will not prevail," Samaras told reporters, and described the results as "a stable foundation for national unity with a European direction." He appealed to political forces "to join a government of national salvation."
Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, the New Democracy think tank, told SETimes, "The Greek people voted in favour of keeping Greece in the eurozone and the EU."
He said that Samaras would likely try to woo the sixth-place finisher, the Democratic Left, which got 6.3% of the vote and 17 seats.
Kostas Ifantis, associate professor of international relations at the University of Athens, said Samaras should do anything in his power to forge a coalition.
"Nothing has changed in terms of the danger of another default or exit from the eurozone and maybe the EU as well," he told SETimes.
Dimitri Sotiropoulos, a research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athens, said Tsipras is miscalculating if he's waiting for a coalition to fall apart, and said the Troika is more willing to renegotiate with Samaras.
"There's not going to be a quick implementation of deep cuts … with the pro-European results that have been obtained, if our European partners insisted on harsh measures it would undermine the pro-bailout results," he told SETimes.
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Distributed via Southeast European Times