In a short victory speech, New Democracy leader and likely prime minister Antonis Samaras called the outcome a “victory for all Europe.”
“Today the Greek people expressed the will to stay anchored within Europe, honor their commitments and foster growth,” Samaras said. He called on the other parties to “join forces to form a stable government. . . . There’s no time to lose.”
New Democracy finished comfortably ahead of the leftist Syriza coalition, whose 37-year-old leader, Alexis Tsipras, had threatened to discard the bailout agreement.
That agreement, which requires the cash-strapped Greek government to adopt a series of deep spending cuts and tax increases, was struck with the International Monetary Fund and other international lenders.
A showdown could have forced Greece out of the currency union, setting off dangerous ripple effects with investors suspecting that other struggling European countries, such as Italy and Spain, also might not be able to meet their obligations. The result could have been a series of domino-like exits from the euro zone, ultimately causing the disbanding of the currency union and economic chaos.
Greece’s economic plight and Europe’s broader problems have become one of the chief risks to the world economy, and will be a focus of talks when President Obama and other Group of 20 leaders meet in Mexico this week. Europe’s troubles already are buffeting the U.S. economy, making them a matter of immediate concern for Obama’s reelection efforts.
Tsipras said he had called Samaras to congratulate him but would be an aggressive opposition leader. The austerity demands of the bailout “are not sustainable, and the government with New Democracy as a core should take this into account,” Tsipras said.
Previous vote inconclusive
An earlier round of elections last month ended inconclusively, failing to produce a new government. At the polls Sunday, both New Democracy and Syriza increased their share of the vote from the previous contest. New Democracy took around 30 percent of the national tally and Syriza about 27 percent.
The first-place finish gives Samaras the right to try to build a majority coalition in the country’s 300-member Parliament — and a 50-seat bonus toward that end. Coupled with the seats New Democracy won outright, Samaras would carry perhaps 130 seats into the upcoming coalition talks.
The coming days will see him bargain with the country’s other parties, most notably the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or Pasok. The Socialist party has alternated power with New Democracy throughout Greece’s modern history but crashed in the May election in the face of Syriza’s rise as a protest against the economic program that Pasok’s leaders negotiated with the IMF.