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17/06/2012 | Europe - Greece. Election: Greek conservatives hold narrow lead

Al Jazeera and agencies

Projections show the conservative New Democracy party as coming in first with about 129 of parliament's 300 seats.

 

The New Democracy party came in first in Greece's election Sunday and immediately proposed forming a pro-euro coalition government - a development that eased, at least briefly, deep fears that the vote would unleash an economic tsunami.

Sunday's vote was seen as crucial for Europe and the world, since it could determine whether Greece was forced to leave the joint euro currency, a move that could have potentially catastrophic consequences for other ailing European nations and the global economy. 

As central banks stood ready to intervene in case of financial turmoil, Greece held its second national election in six weeks after an inconclusive ballot on May 6.

With 37.4 per cent of the vote counted, official results showed the conservative New Democracy with 30.5 per cent of the vote, ahead of the radical anti-bailout Syriza party's 26 per cent and the pro-bailout Socialist PASOK with 12.9 per cent.

Although official projections late Sunday showed that no party will win enough seats in the 300-member parliament to form a government on its own, Greece's two traditional parties - New Democracy and PASOK - will have enough seats to form a coalition together.

"The Greek people today voted for Greece to remain on its European path and in the eurozone," New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said, adding that voters chose "policies that will bring jobs, growth, justice and security". 
Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips reported from Athens that the demographic division over economic policy between different age groups "was quite dramatic", with younger voters far more likely to vote for Syriza, whilst older Greeks were more conservative. 

"The youth went for Syriza, and when you look at Greece's youth unemployment, that's understandable," he said.
His party beat Syriza, which wanted to cancel Greece's international bailouts. Syriza chief Alexis Tsipras has conceded the election.

The parties vying to win have starkly different views about what to do about the 240bn euros ($300bn) in bailout loans that Greece has been given by international lenders.

Greece has been dependent on rescue loans since May 2010, after sky-high borrowing rates left it locked out of the international markets following years of profligate spending and falsifying financial data. The spending cuts made in return have left the country mired in a fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiralling to above 22 per cent and tens of thousands of businesses shutting down.

The party that comes first in Sunday's vote gets a bonus of 50 seats in the 300-member parliament and gets the first try at forming a new government with a majority in Parliament. If they fail, the next highest party gets to try.
Rise to prominence

Virtually unknown outside of Greece four months ago, Tsipras and his party shot to prominence in the May 6 vote, where he came a surprise second and quadrupled his support since the 2009 election.

Tsipras, has vowed to rip up Greece's bailout agreements and repeal the austerity measures, which have included deep spending cuts on everything from health care to education and infrastructure, as well as tax hikes and reductions of salaries and pensions.

But his pledges, which include cancelling planned privatizations, nationalising banks and rolling back cuts to minimum wages and pensions, have horrified European leaders, as well as many Greeks.

"We have beaten fear. Today we open a road to hope," Tspiras said as he voted Sunday. "Today we open a road to a better tomorrow, with our people united, dignified and proud. In a Greece of social justice and prosperity, an equal member of a Europe that is changing."

Samaras, meanwhile, cast Sunday's choice as one between the euro and returning to the drachma. He has vowed to renegotiate some of the bailout's harsher terms but insists the top priority is for the country to remain in
Europe's joint currency.

"Today the Greek people speak. Tomorrow a new era for Greece begins," Samaras said after voting in southern Greece.

Earlier Sunday, about 10 men armed with sledgehammers and wooden bats attacked a polling station in central Athens, wounding two policemen guarding it and setting fire to the ballot box shortly before polls closed. The attack - the only one reported so far - took place in the Athens neighbourhood of Exarhia, a traditional haven for leftists and anarchists.

Greek police were also investigating the discovery Sunday of two unexploded hand grenades outside private Skai television station on the outskirts of Athens. Demetris Tsiodras, the Greek government spokesperson, denounced the devices as an attempt to spoil the smooth running of the election.

German 'solidarity'

Germany's foreign minister said Sunday after the polls closed that it is important for a new Greek government to stick to the country's agreements with international creditors, but he signaled that Athens may be given more time to comply with them after weeks of pre-election standstill.

The election outcome is expected to determine the fate of the unpopular austerity and reform measures that Greece was required to impose for its bailout loans.
Germany - Europe's biggest economy - has been a major contributor to Greece's 2 multibillion-euro rescue packages and a key advocate of demanding those conditions.

"We want Greece to stay in the euro; we want Greece to continue wanting to belong to Europe," Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister, told ARD television on Sunday. 

"But Greece will decide now on its own path; you cannot stop anyone who wants to go."

Westerwelle said it's important for Greece to form a pro-European government that doesn't put into question everything that has been agreed.

He said Germany remains prepared to show solidarity with others in Europe - "but what we cannot accept is the agreements that have been made being declared null and void".

Debt inspectors from the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF who are managing the Greek bailout regularly check progress in implementing its conditions to determine whether Greece can secure further aid payouts.

Westerwelle insisted that the substance of the bailout agreements must remain unchanged, but signaled some flexibility on deadlines.

Al Jazeera (Arabia Saudita)

 


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