Athens: In a sigh of relief for financial markets around the world, Greece's centre-right, pro-bailout New Democracy party won the Sunday's Parliamentary Elections.
The anti-bailout Syriza party has conceded defeat in the crucial polls and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, has said his leftist party will not join a coalition government.
A vote against the pro-bailout party could have forced Greece to leave the joint euro currency, a move that would have had potentially catastrophic consequences for other ailing European nations and the global economy.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy party, claimed "a victory for all Europe" after topping the polls.
Samaras is now tasked with coalition talks, six weeks after a previous election that failed to produce a government. Pro-bailout parties have now won enough seats to form a joint government.
After Sunday's vote, he said: "Today the Greek people expressed their will to stay anchored within the euro, remain an integral part of the eurozone, honour the country's commitments and foster growth. This is a victory for all Europe," Samaras said. "I call on all parties that share those objectives to form a stable new government."
As central banks stood ready to intervene in case of financial turmoil, Greece held its second national election on Sunday in six weeks after an inconclusive ballot on May 06 and the subsequent collapse of coalition talks.
Near complete results showed New Democracy coming first with 29.6 percent of the vote and 129 of the 300 seats in Parliament. The radical left anti-bailout Syriza party had 26.9 percent and 71 seats and the pro-bailout Socialist PASOK party came in third with 12.3 percent of the vote and 33 seats. The extremist far-right Golden Dawn party had steady support, getting 6.9 percent of the vote and 18 seats.
Greece's parties have starkly different views about what to do about the EUR 240 billion (USD 300 billion) in bailout loans that Greece has been given by other European countries and the International Monetary Fund, and the harsh austerity measures that previous Greek governments had to accept in return for the loans.
With none winning an outright majority, the parties will have to seek coalition partners to form a viable government, needing a simple majority of at least 151 seats. New Democracy will get the first stab at brokering a partnership on Monday.
The United States welcomed the result. "We hope this election will lead quickly to the formation of a new government that can make timely progress on the economic challenges facing the Greek people," the White House said in a statement.
Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called New Democracy's victory a decision to "forge ahead" with implementing far-reaching reforms. Germany's foreign minister said it was important for Greece to stick to its agreements with creditors, but held out the prospect that Athens might be given more time to comply with them.
Greece has been dependent on rescue loans to operate since May 2010, after it was locked out of international markets following years of profligate spending and falsifying financial data. The country is mired in a fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiralling above 22 percent and tens of thousands of businesses shutting down.
Greece had to agree to austerity measures to get the loans, including deep spending cuts on everything from health care to education and infrastructure, as well as tax hikes and cuts in salaries and pensions. Anger at the measures has sent Greeks into the streets in frequent strikes and protests, some of them violent.
The vote on Sunday went smoothly except for one incident in which 10 men attacked a polling station in Athens with sledgehammers and wooden bats, wounding two policemen and setting fire to the ballot box.
(With Agency inputs)
First Published: Monday, June 18, 2012, 09:20