Greece's two main parties have lost their parliamentary majority in Sunday's election. Parties opposed to the government's austerity measures were the real winners of the election night.
He's a victor of sorts: Antonis Samaras, head of the center-right New Democracy Party (Nea Dimokratia) has won more votes than any other party in the country's elections. But with 18.9 percent, it is the worst performance in his party's history. Even when they were defeated in 2009, the conservative party still managed to gain 33 percent of the vote.
Before the elections, Samaras declared he wanted a clear mandate for governing and therefore did not want to enter into a coalition. On Sunday evening, the 61-year-old economist reacted with sobriety to the emerging results - and said he would indeed try to form a new coalition.
"We are ready to take responsibility for forming a government of national unity with two overriding goals: to keep the country in the eurozone and to change the austerity agreement" - because only then would they achieve growth and win over the Greek public. Samaras stressed that the offer was open to politicians of every political hue.
Left demands end to austerity
The leftist parties declared that while the conservatives simply wanted to ease the course of austerity, they would renounce the cuts completely. Above all Alexis Tsipras, head of the "coalition of the radical left" (Syriza) managed to make political gains with this argument and he was the biggest winner in Sunday's vote. The coalition tripled the party's proportion of the vote to just under 17 percent, and Tsipras is now head of the second-largest party in the country, with his own plans for forming a coalition.
"This result is a message for massive change in Greece and in the whole of Europe," Tsipras declared before his supporters in Athens. The people of Europe should not go along with the "barbarity" of austerity. He added that leading politicians in Europe, above all German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to own up to the fact that austerity has been defeated.
Slap in the face for the socialists
The biggest disappointment of the evening was suffered by the main socialist party Pasok, which was punished by the voters not only for the current austerity course, but also for their economic policy of the last 30 years. The socialists fell from their 44 percent in 2009 to just over 13 percent this time, and are now only the third-largest party in parliament. In the district of Athens Central, only one Pasok representative was elected.
According to the constitution, the Greek president must now give the largest party (New Democracy) three days to form a coalition government. If that should prove impossible, then the second-biggest party is handed the task - or, if necessary - the third-largest party. If that doesn't work, there will be new elections - an option many are already anticipating.
The party that could tip the scales in coalition negotiations is the moderate "Democratic Left" which won six percent of the vote. Its leader, Fotis Kouvelis, made it clear that he would not be supporting a program of austerity.
"We will not follow a policy which leads to the impoverishment of our people and our society and we don't want to be a left-wing, democratic alibi for such a policy," Kouvelis declared. His party is standing by its election promise: Against austerity, but for Greece's membership in the EU.
Playing into the hands of extremists
The socialists, under the leadership of former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, pleaded for a coalition of pro-European powers, and at the same time for a part-renegotiation of the austerity package.
Loukas Tsoukalis, head of the Athens Think Tank Eliamep warned against excessive expectations from Greece's EU partners, in an interview with Greek television. "I'm scared that two things could happen: Firstly, that Greece would become ungovernable, and secondly, that the country would not be able to communicate with the rest of the world." Of course, he added, we should respect the voice of the people. But that creates a problem, he said, when it makes it harder to govern the country, or to communicate with the outside world.
For the established parties, one of the main problems is the entry into parliament of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. Its head, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, warned at a press conference that he would carry on his fight "both inside and outside the parliament."
Author: Jannis Papadimitriou / ji
Editor: Gregg Benzow