Claiming a surprising victory with projections showing more than 35 per cent support Sunday, Alexis Tsipras and his SYRIZA party said they would form a coalition with former partner Independent Greeks and “continue fighting for the sake of the people.”
While projected turnout was the lowest it has been since at least 1950, the outcome belied forecasts by pre-vote surveys and analyses.
It ensured SYRIZA a mandate to govern over a difficult implementation of bailout conditions over the next four years.
“We have fought against much stronger powers and SYRIZA has proved that it is too tough to die, because it has deep connections with the people,” Tsipras said during a victory speech alongside Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos.
Independent Greeks (ANEL) had been the junior coalition partner of SYRIZA after Tsipras’ party rose to power in a wave of support for his anti-austerity platform in January. According to tallies by the Ministry of the Interior, SYRIZA was projected to win 145 seats and Independent Greeks 10 in the 300-seat parliament.
Projections with more than half the votes counted showed conservative New Democracy with 28 per cent, prompting party leader Evangelos Meimarakis to concede defeat less than two hours after polls closed.
Far-right extremist Golden Dawn garnered 7 per cent, according to projections. The results were expected to boosted their presence in parliament by two seats.
Thousands of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks supporters gathered in Athens to celebrate the win, waving party flags.
“This result is a message for Europe, that the left forces are present and that they can and will move things over the next period of time,” Kostas Tsipras, government official and a cousin of the former prime minister, told dpa.
Projections showed turnout at ballot stations was exceptionally low at 55.8 per cent, indicating that voters are weary after five years of belt-tightening measures during which the economy has lost a quarter of its value and three elections since the beginning of the year.
During the last parliamentary election in January, 64 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Tsipras had said he triggered the election through his resignation because he needed a renewed mandate to implement the terms of a bailout programme that included 86 billion euros (97 billion dollars) in funding for the struggling Greek economy.
Those terms include further budget cuts and tactics to raise money for the state, including privatization of assets. While the measures were widely unpopular, they were considered necessary to secure financing that would keep Greece in the eurozone.
Nevertheless, neck-and-neck surveys over the last weeks seemed to threaten Tsipras’ vast popularity, and it seemed fleetingly unclear whether SYRIZA voters would remain loyal after the disappointing compromises conceded to by their leader.
At the ballot boxes Sunday, SYRIZA supporters said they didn’t fault Tsipras for signing a bailout programme that included austerity measures he vowed to dismantle.
“It’s not perfect, but [Tsipras] will work to implement this deal,” SYRIZA voter Katherina M., 50, told dpa.
She said she voted for him because she believed, “Tsipras will take care of the people who now find themselves in a difficult situation. He will take care of them more than anyone else.”
George Ploumis, a 46-year-old businessman and freelance economist who cast his vote for Independent Greeks in Athens, also acknowledged the new government will have to implement the bailout programme, but said that it was negotiated without the support of other European leaders who left Tsipras out in the cold.
“What we need now is political stability most of all,” Ploumis told dpa after voting. “We need to reform, restructure the public sector and exploit the possibilities that Greece has.”