ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece voted Sunday in an early general election that could alter the course of the country’s struggle with crippling debts, with a radical left party poised to win by promising to rewrite the terms of its international bailout.
The Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras has remained firmly ahead of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy party in opinion polls throughout the election campaign, which was called two years ahead of schedule.
But those polls also have shown that a significant portion of voters remained undecided until the last minute, and suggest that Syriza might struggle to win enough parliamentary seats to form a government on its own.
“These elections are crucial for our future and for the future of our children,” Samaras said after he cast his ballot in a southern Greek town. “Today we decide whether we will go forward with strength, with security, with assuredness, or whether we will head into adventures.”
Samaras said he was optimistic of victory given what he called the “unprecedented large number” of undecided voters. He said they would determine the outcome. Tsipras was mobbed by a media throng as he voted in Athens. “The Left’s time has come!” chanted a nearby pack of his party’s youth activists.
A relaxed-looking Tsipras joked with journalists jostling for quotes and photos to calm down. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for five years. You can wait for another five minutes,” he said.
“Today, the Greek people are called to decisively make the remaining step toward the return of hope, the end of fear, the return of democracy and dignity in our country,” he said outside the polling station. He said a vote for Syriza would ensure that Greece negotiated “a tough bargain to rejoin Europe on an equal basis. I am optimistic this will be a historic day.”
Syriza has promised to renegotiate the country’s 240 billion euro ($270 billion) international bailout deal. It has pledged to reverse many of the reforms that international creditors demanded in exchange for keeping Greece financially afloat since 2010. The anti-bailout rhetoric has renewed doubts over Greece’s ability to emerge from its financial crisis that has seen a quarter of its economy wiped out, sent unemployment soaring and undermined the euro, the currency shared by 19 European countries.
Greece’s creditors insist the country must abide by previous commitments to continue receiving support, and investors and markets alike have been spooked by the anti-bailout rhetoric. Greece could face bankruptcy if a solution is not found, although speculation of a “Grexit” — Greece leaving the euro — and a potential collapse of the currency has been far less fraught than during the last general election in 2012. Samaras’ campaign focused on the improving economy, which grew for the first time in six years in the third quarter of 2014. He has promised to reduce taxes if re-elected and has warned of the potentially dire consequences of reneging on bailout conditions. Opponents accused him of using fear tactics.