Tsipras' leftist party comfortably wins Greek election again

Jubilant supporters of Alexis Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party cheered, waved party flags and danced Sunday after the party comfortably won Greece's third national vote this year despite a party rebellion over his acceptance of a painful third international bailout.

Nearly 45 per cent of Greeks did not vote

Former Greek prime minister and leader of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras speaks to journalists after he voted in the general election at a polling station in Athens on Sunday morning. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

Jubilant supporters of Alexis Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party cheered, waved party flags and danced Sunday after the party comfortably won Greece's third national vote this year despite a party rebellion over his acceptance of a painful third international bailout.

With 54 per cent of the vote counted, Syriza stood at 35.5 per cent, with the conservative New Democracy at 28 per cent while the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn was coming in third with 7.1 per cent, followed closely by the once-mighty socialist PASOK party with 6.4 per cent. Abstention was high, at nearly 45 per cent in an election-weary country with a traditionally high voter turnout.

Syriza fell short of a governing majority in the 300-member parliament and was projected to win 145 seats. But he was expected to form a coalition government with ease.

Panos Kammenos, head of the small right-wing Independent Greeks party who was Tsipras' junior coalition partner in a short-lived seven-month government, was at 3.7 per cent and 10 seats in parliament. He said he will once more join in a coalition.

"I am in contact with Alexis Tsipras ... our new effort begins tomorrow [Monday]," he said.

Tsipras will receive the mandate to seek coalition partners from the country's president Monday, giving him three days to form a government.

New Democracy head Vangelis Meimarakis conceded defeat and called for a government to be formed quickly.

"The election result appears to be forming comprehensively with Syriza and Mr. Tsipras coming first," Meimarakis said. "I congratulate him and call on him to form the government that is necessary, and bring the [proposal] to parliament."

Conservative New Democracy Leader Vangelis Meimarakis talk to the media after voting for the general election in Athens on Sunday. (Dimitris Michalakis/Reuters)
A total of eight parties appeared set to win parliamentary seats. The new anti-bailout Popular Unity party, formed by rebel Syriza members who objected to Tsipras' agreement to a third bailout for Greece and the stringent austerity attached to it, was falling short of the 3 per cent parliamentary threshold.

"We lost the battle, but not the war," said Popular Unity head Panagiotis Lafazanis, Tsipras' former energy minister.

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

"What a result! It's hard to describe. Tsipras will fight for the people — for Greece and for Europe," said Maria Nixa, a 58-year-old private company employee celebrating outside Syriza's main election campaign booth in central Athens.

Retiree Antonis Antonios, 75, echoed her sentiments.

"It's a great and hopeful result. We are moving forward. I am waiting for the next government to put up a fight," he said. "They are the only ones capable of a brave struggle."

Third vote since January

It is the third time this year Greeks have voted, after January elections that brought Tsipras to power on an anti-bailout platform, and a July referendum he called urging voters to reject creditor reform proposals.

The 41-year-old former prime minister triggered the election by resigning in August, barely seven months into his four-year term, after facing the Syriza rebellion over his policy U-turn in accepting the spending cuts and tax hikes stipulated by the bailout.

His party supporters were more forgiving than the hardliners who split from his party.

"He is young, we had been voting for the others for 40 years," supporter Eva Vasilopoulou. "We are giving [Tspiras] a second chance. He is pure, and smart, and I hope that he will govern for many years."

Others said they appreciated that Tsipras had tried to get a better bailout deal for Greece, and his honesty in saying he didn't achieve what he wanted in the troubled negotiations with European creditors.

"He told ... the truth, that this is how things are: `I have fought I did not achieve what I wanted, and I have brought this [deal]. If you want, vote for me'," Syriza supporter Alexis Athanasopoulos said. "And so we voted for him."

Tsipras had argued he had no choice but to accept the creditor demands for more tax hikes and spending cuts in return for Greece's third rescue, a three-year package worth 86 billion euros [$97 billion US]. Without it, Greece — which has relied on international rescue loans since 2010 — faced bankruptcy and a potentially disastrous exit from Europe's joint currency.

Former Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said stability lay ahead for Greece.

"I think we will be the [first] party," he said on Star television. "I can't say that it will be a government for four years, but I can say that it is very unlikely that there will be elections in the next 12 months."

Lacklustre campaign

The pre-election campaign was lacklustre and somewhat muted — a far cry from the frenetic, high-stakes January campaign, which pitted the anti-bailout Tsipras against centrist parties that argued the deal with other eurozone countries was the country's best chance for an eventual return to some form of economic normalcy in a country ravaged by recession and with unemployment at around 25 per cent.

Now, the policies for the winner have already been set in the bailout deal, and the anti-austerity camp has been reduced to Golden Dawn and the Communist Party inside parliament, as well as Popular Unity.

But some voters, who had hoped that Tsipras would make good on his promises to end austerity and get a better deal out of Greece's creditors, were so disappointed they chose to abstain.

"I'm not going to vote again until I go to my grave," said Giorgos Papantonopoulos, 57, a taxi driver. "I was a conservative and a New Democracy member. I voted for Tsipras in January so he could make good on his promises."

Meimarakis' campaign had centered on a return to stability. He painted Tsipras as a reckless, inexperienced politician who led the country toward a potential catastrophe and introduced strict banking restrictions in an effort to stem a bank run.

Syriza's campaign focused on doing away with the staid and often corrupt politics of the past.

The new government will have little time to waste. Creditors are expected to review progress of reforms as part of the bailout next month, while the government will also have to draft the 2016 state budget, overhaul the pension system, raise a series of taxes, including on farmers, carry out privatizations and merge social security funds.

It must also oversee a critical bank recapitalization program, without which depositors with over 100,000 euros [$113,000 US] in their accounts will be forced to contribute.

Supporters of left-wing Syriza party watch the first exit polls in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. (Giannis PapanikoséAssociated Press)

with files from The Associated Press

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