20 Sep 2015

Greek elections: nation returns to the polls

Voting has begun in Greece’s general election, with opinion polls indicating a tight race as Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras seeks a new mandate.

Early voters in Greece were thin on the ground on Sunday to elect a government they will entrust with the task of steering the country through further bailout reforms and meeting the challenge of a growing refugee crisis.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of leftist Syriza, who lost his battle with Europe to end austerity against his country, seeks re-election a month after he resigned as prime minister.

Read Paul Mason: Greek elections - do Syriza want to win?

Final polls showed the race too close to call between Syriza and the conservative New Democracy party of Vangelis Meimarakis, who accuses his rival of crippling the economy.

“What we are hoping for is for the less useless (politician) so he does the least damage to Greece,” said 77-year-old Yiannis outside a polling station in Athens.

Opinion polls suggest Tsipras may have the edge, but so narrow a one that a win for Meimarakis would not be surprising.

Neither Syriza or New Democracy is expected to get the roughly 38 percent of the vote generally seen as needed for a clear majority in the 300-seat parliament.

That means whoever gets the most votes – and a 50-seat bonus that goes with it – will need to form a coalition, probably with one or both of the small centrist To Potami and socialist PASOK parties.

The election is being watched closely outside Greece because the winner will need to oversee deep economic reforms required for an 86-billion-euro ($98-billion) bailout Tsipras was forced to broker in August with Athens’ euro zone partners.