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Greece headed to early elections after European vote results

Greek markets reacted positively Monday to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's call for snap general elections following a resounding defeat of his left-wing Syriza party in European and local elections.

A general election that was due for October will likely take place late June or early July

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks in Athens on Sunday after the first European parliamentary election results. Greece had triple elections, for local, regional and European representation. The national and parliamentary elections will now come in a matter of weeks instead of months as originally planned. (Simela Pantzartzi/EPA-EFE)

Greek markets reacted positively Monday to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's call for snap general elections following a resounding defeat of his left-wing Syriza party in European and local elections.

Official results with more than 87 per cent of the vote counted showed the conservative New Democracy party 9.4 percentage points ahead of Syriza, with just over 33 per cent, compared to the governing party's nearly 24 per cent.

Speaking Sunday after early results showed a heavy defeat for Syriza, Tsipras said he would visit Greece's president after the second round of local elections on June 2 to request the early dissolution of parliament, triggering early national elections. The likeliest dates are June 30 or July 7, about three months earlier than Tsipras's term expires in October.

"The electoral result .... is not up to our expectations," Tsipras said. "I will not escape or run away, or quit the fight."

The development lifted some of the uncertainty that had gripped the country in the run-up to Sunday's ballots, and markets reacted with relief. The stock market opened up five per cent and made further gains during the day to close up 6.1 per cent. 

The outcome of Sunday's European, local and regional elections was a blow to a party that rose to prominence in 2015 on promises of repealing austerity imposed during Greece's international bailout, but ended up imposing more. Syriza also suffered heavy losses in northern Greece, where anger ran high over a compromise reached with neighbouring North Macedonia over that country's name.

Former coalition partner has poor showing

Tsipras recently brought a series of relief measures to parliament that amounted to handouts and defied the conservatives to vote against them. They did not, but accused Tsipras of a desperate last-minute gambit for votes.

"For four years now we've run a course with unprecedented difficulties for the country's political history. We went against the current," Tsipras said Sunday. "We didn't hide. We told the truth to the Greek people. We will tell the truth now too."

He described the choice Greeks face as one between emerging permanently from the bailout or "returning to the darkness of austerity, the darkness of the crisis, of the oligarchs and the International Monetary Fund."

On the streets of Athens, feelings were mixed. Some hoped early elections would end the uncertainty affecting business.

"It was the best thing for Greece, I believe, because since January, there was no work at all. And that's very bad," said Paraskevas Stamatiadis, an Athens goldsmith. "Let's get elections over with."

Among other heavy losers on Sunday were Syriza's former governing coalition partner, the right-wing Independent Greeks, and Greece's extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party. The Independent Greeks saw their support plunge to 0.8 per cent from nearly 3.5 per cent in 2014, putting them in 15th place.

Golden Dawn shed more than four percentage points, leaving them in fifth place with slightly under five per cent, down from over nine per cent in the 2014 European elections. That would still give them two seats in the European Parliament, down from three.

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