Greece was plunged into political uncertainty on Sunday night as national elections produced a fragmented Parliament of at least seven parties and a result that could preclude New Democracy and PASOK forming a coalition government over the next few days.
The possibility of the two parties that backed Greece?s new bailout combining their forces was undermined by a collapse in their support, particularly in the case of PASOK. The Socialists suffered a drubbing around the country and looked to have been beaten into third place by the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) with what could be PASOK?s worst ever showing at the ballot box.
The election result was also notable for the entry into Parliament of the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), which in 2009 had only gained 0.29 percent of the vote and looked set to gather close to 7 percent at these elections.
With 45 percent of the vote counted last night, New Democracy was leading with 20.23 percent. It was followed by SYRIZA on 15.94 percent and PASOK on 13.92 percent. The right-wing anti-bailout Independent Greeks party, formed just a few months ago, came fourth with 10.40 percent. The Communist Party (KKE) garnered 8.36 percent, which was lower than most opinion polls had suggested. Chrysi Avgi gained 6.84 percent and the Democratic Left was the last party certain of a place in Parliament with 5.99 percent.
Two other parties, Ecologist Greens and the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), were close to gaining seats in the House with less than half of the votes counted.
The result means that in the best-case scenario, New Democracy, which will be awarded an extra 50 seats, and PASOK would only have a majority of a few MPs in the 300-seat Parliament. Even if they were able to agree to form a coalition, it would have weak political legitimacy in wake of an election that saw Greek voters move en masse toward parties that opposed the bailout agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and New Democracy chief Antonis Samaras both declared themselves open to the idea of forming a pro-European national unity administration that would include other parties and would seek to renegotiate the terms of the EU-IMF loan agreement.
?All Greeks have to get to know each other again,? said Venizelos, who admitted that PASOK had paid the price for carrying the burden of the crisis. ?We embittered the people so we could protect the future of the nation.?
He said that the possibility of forming a national unity government with a ?European orientation? regardless of parties? positions on the bailout should be explored.
Samaras said he would seek to form a ?national salvation government? to keep the country in the eurozone and pledged to ?amend? Greece?s debt deal with foreign creditors in a bid to boost growth. He attributed the outcome of the elections, in which voters punished the two main parties, to ?the disappointment of the Greek people for dead-end policies that have pushed them to the limits.?
However, the possibility of a third group joining such a government looked extremely slim last night.
Perhaps the best hope for Greece?s two main parties would have been Democratic Left, which maintained a clear pro-European stance during the campaign. However, party leader Fotis Kouvelis repeated his position that cooperation with New Democracy and PASOK was not in Democratic Left?s intentions. ?The results show people?s frustration and anger,? he said.
A failure by PASOK and ND to form a government would leave second-placed SYRIZA, the night?s big winners, with the option of trying to form a government. Greece?s electoral law means that in case of a hung parliament, the first party has three days to form a government, followed by the second party and then the group that comes in third.
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who at 38 led his party to its best election showing, ruled out the option of working with either New Democracy or PASOK and said he would try to form a coalition of parties opposed to the EU-IMF memorandum, starting with those on the left.
Tsipras said in a speech from his headquarters that the austerity policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel ?have suffered a crushing defeat.? He said he would appeal to the ?forces of the left? in a bid to form a coalition to ?abolish the memorandum.? ?Their signatures have been undermined by the popular mandate,? he said, referring to the leaders of the outgoing coalition government.
Tsipras said his party?s showing in the elections constituted a ?strong message, to Greece and to Europe, to overturn the status quo? and ?a message of peaceful revolution.? ?The peoples of Europe cannot be reconciled with barbaric memorandums,? he said.
If the top three parties fail to form a coalition government, President Karolos Papoulias has the right to broker a deal to create a national unity administration. If this effort fails, Greece will have to go to new elections.