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New exit polls in Greece show conservative New Democracy party ahead

June 17, 2012 | 11:05 am

Greek election
ATHENS — New exit polls in Greece’s closely watched national election suggest that the conservative New Democracy party will eke out a slight victory over the Syriza group, a far-left coalition that campaigned on a pledge to renege on Athens’ international bailout agreements.

Official results are not expected until later Sunday. But the latest exit polls show New Democracy winning by a hair against Syriza, with 28.6% to 30% of the vote for the former compared with 27% to 28.4% for the latter.

But the closely matched levels of support for both New Democracy and Syriza are not enough to allow either party to govern on its own. That could augur days of fractious negotiations on a ruling coalition and perhaps even a third trip to the ballot box if the talks come up short. Sunday’s election was a rerun of an inconclusive first poll May 6.

The traditional powerhouse socialist party PASOK was third in the exit polls, with 11% to 12.4% of the vote. While that's a humiliating drop from its convincing overall win in the 2009 election, it could be enough to allow PASOK and New Democracy to form a unity coalition intent on keeping Greece in the Eurozone while trying to renegotiate elements of its bailout deals.

Many in Europe fear that a win by Syriza could ultimately result in Greece being forced out of the Eurozone, the organization of 17 nations that use the euro currency. Syriza’s charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras, has vowed to renounce the austerity-laden bailout deals that Greece has signed with European and international creditors.

European officials have warned Greeks that any attempt to turn their back on the bailout agreements would cause the rescue loans to dry up, forcing Athens into a chaotic default.

Greece is mired in its fifth year of recession. Staggering from multiple rounds of harsh spending cuts over the past two years, the country is dealing with a spiraling unemployment rate and rising levels of poverty, homelessness and illness.

Tsipras, 37, says that expelling Greece from the Eurozone would have devastating consequences for the remaining 16 countries, especially Spain and Italy, which would be forced to follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal in applying for government bailouts if nervous investors take flight. Spain has already acknowledged that it will need up to $125 billion in aid to prop up its ailing banks.


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— Anthee Carassava, with Henry Chu in London

Photo: Supporters of the radical-left Syriza party watch election returns in Athens. Credit: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA