Athens: Having reeled under heavy budget cuts for years, Greek citizens have said a clear no to austerity.
In what seems to steer the country on an anti-EU course, the crucial make-or-break election in Greece has been won by the radical left anti-austerity Syriza party, officials said Monday.
Out of 98% votes counted, the maximum chunk of votes (36%) was garnered by Syriza party which is against bailout and aims to renegotiate the country's debt.
The radical left party is expected to get 149 seats, just two short of the majority mark 151.Meanwhile, the ruling party New Democracy has come second with 28 percent votes.
Delighted over the poll victory, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras hailed the Greeks for voting for them, saying, “Greeks wrote history”.
Outgoing Prime Minister Samaras conceded defeat late on Sunday, and called Syriza's Tsirpas to congratulate him on the victory.
Tsipras has promised to renegotiate the country's 240 billion-euro ($270 billion) international bailout deal, and seek forgiveness for most of Greece's massive debt load. He has pledged to reverse many of the reforms that creditors demanded — including cuts in pensions and the minimum wage, some privatizations and public sector firings — in exchange for keeping Greece financially afloat since 2010.
As Tsirpas went to cast his vote in Athens, youth activists from his Syriza party were heard to chant "the Left's time has come!"
"What's clear is we have a historic victory that sends a message that does not only concern the Greek people, but all European peoples," Syriza party spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Mega television. "There is great relief among all Europeans. The only question is how big a victory it is."
Skourletis said the election results heralded "a return of social dignity and social justice. A return to democracy. Because, beyond the wild austerity, democracy has suffered." He stated that Syriza's victory "sends a message against austerity and in favour of dignity and democracy."
Syriza's anti-bailout rhetoric appealed to many in a country that, in the past five years of its acute financial crisis, has seen a quarter of its economy wiped out, unemployment of above 25 percent, and average income losses of at least 30 percent.
But it has also renewed doubts over Greece's ability to emerge from its financial crisis, and fears that the country's finances could once again send shockwaves through global markets and undermine the euro, the currency shared by 19 European countries.
Samaras' New Democracy party conceded defeat not too long after the exit poll was announced.
"We lost," Health Minister and conservative party parliamentary spokesman Makis Voridis told private Mega TV, adding that the extent of the defeat wasn't yet clear. He said the government's austerity policies, implemented to secure vital international bailouts, "make sense" but were cut short before they could bear fruit.
Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis congratulated Syriza, saying its victory "cannot be questioned."
Greeks have faced years of austerity measures, including cuts in wages, pensions and government spending, and tax increases.
Greece's creditors insist the country must abide by previous commitments to continue receiving support, and investors and markets alike have been spooked by the anti-bailout rhetoric. Greece could face bankruptcy if a solution is not found, although speculation of a "Grexit" — Greece leaving the euro — and a potential collapse of the currency has been far less fraught than during the last general election in 2012.
Hundreds of people turned out to celebrate outside Syriza's main electoral kiosk in central Athens, waving flags and cheering.
The centrist Potami (River) party was battling for third place with the Nazi-inspired, extreme right-wing Golden Dawn, whose leadership is in prison pending trial for running a criminal organization. Both were projected as being between 6 and 7 percent. Early official returns showed Golden Dawn slightly ahead with 6 percent, compared to Potami's 5.6 percent.
If Syriza falls shy of the 151 seats necessary to form a government on its own, it will have to seek support from other parties — either in a minority government or as a coalition.
A Syriza government will see Tsipras becoming Greece's youngest prime minister in 150 years.
With Agency Inputs