ATHENS -- Greek conservatives won at the polls Sunday in a national election but fell far short of enough seats to take power, deadlocking parliament and deepening unease over the country’s economic future and its continued membership in the Eurozone.
With 30% of the votes counted, Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy party had 20.3% of the vote, far from the support needed to secure an outright majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. The Socialists took a brutal beating, with support for their new leader and former Greek finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, plummeting to 14.1%, down a shocking 30 percentage points from the party’s landslide victory in 2009.
Anger over punishing austerity cuts pushed voters to a number of protest parties, including the hard-left Syriza party, which unseated scores of Socialist and conservative backbenchers, and the far-right Golden Dawn party, whose anti-immigrant stand and thuggish tactics have sparked widespread concern.
The messy electoral result could take weeks to untangle, at a time when Europe’s debt crisis threatens to flare up again.
Samaras, as the leader of the projected top vote-getting party, will have three days to try to form a coalition before passing on the task to the runner-up party. The endeavor could prove tricky: Samaras has already said that he would rather force another election than join in a coalition with Venizelos, his archrival.
And even if they formed an alliance with the help of a third, smaller party, it would probably be short-lived, pundits and politicians here said.
“We’re looking at the end of a political era in which the conservative and Socialists dominated the political spectrum,” said Dimitris Mavros, managing director of the MRB polling group. “Voter intent [was] clear: to demolish that system and produce a new, highly fragmented political kaleidoscope.”
"This is a seismic shift in politics here," Mavros said.
Photo: Supporters of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party hold flares while awaiting final election results in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki on Sunday. Credit: Nikolas Giakoumidis / Associated Press