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Greece's Syriza Party Vows to Fight After Close Second-Place Finish

Conservative party wins majority in Greece, but leftist leader Tsipras sees huge gains for his party and battles ahead

Common Dreams staff

Antonis Samaras is cheered after New Democracy won the largest share of the votes. (Photograph: John Kolesidis/Reuters)

Alexis Tsipras, leftist leader of the anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece, conceded electoral defeat on Sunday, after the conservative pro-bailout New Democracy party won a majority of seats in parliamentary elections. With nearly 100 percent of ballots counted, New Democracy had won 29.7 percent of the vote, ahead of SYRIZA's 27 percent, and the once dominant Socialist PASOK party came in third with 12.3 percent.

But, said Tsipras before throngs of his supporters, Syriza's fight against punishing austerity measures was a "great accomplishment" and, despite the loss, they would continue to fight against economic demands by Europe that they have argued are punishing the Greek people.

"Some believe that they won the elections," Tsipras told cheering Syriza supporters in Athens. "But, the people have won the elections," he said, "because now they can not proceed with bailout agreements and they recognize this, both in Greece and in Brussels. They know this very well and they owe it to us. Because of your fight, this is a great accomplishment that we share with all the people of Europe."

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Reuters reports:

The once-mighty Socialist PASOK party, now reduced to third place, indicated it would support former coalition partner Samaras but had not yet decided whether to join the government or just offer parliamentary backing.

In deep recession, crushed under its huge public debt and facing rising social tensions, Greece faces a daunting struggle to restore a near-bankrupt economy, and a new government could face a new wave of protests after taking office.

"The crisis has been postponed, not necessarily averted," said Theodore Couloumbis, political analyst and vice-president of Athens-based think-tank ELIAMEP.

"For this government to last it has to show results. You can't continue with 50 percent youth unemployment and a fifth straight year of recession," he said.

The radical left SYRIZA bloc, which had promised to tear up the bailout deal signed in March with the European Union and International Monetary Fund, scored strongly in the election, and party leader Alexis Tsipras promised to continue its opposition to the painful austerity measures demanded of Greece.

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The Guardian adds:

Tsipras, who stunned Europe by coming from nowhere in May to take 17% of the vote and second place, improved vastly on his performance with some 27% by campaigning to reject the bailout terms, ameliorate the austerity programs, and yet keep Greece in the euro. He might be happier to emerge as a formidable and strengthened opposition leader.

Leading EU politicians had warned the Greeks that a Tsipras victory would mean ejection from the single currency, a campaign that backfired to judge by the strength of the Syriza result. All the signs now are that, despite the tough talk in the election campaign, the Europeans will shift to relaxing the terms of Greece's bailout, while emphasizing that the broad conditions have to be met.

"I can well imagine that the schedule will be discussed again," said the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, suggesting that the timeline set for Greece's budget deficit reduction program will be eased. Belgian officials made similar noises.

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