Syriza wins the majority in historic Greek elections victory:
Supporters of the opposition Syriza party cheer the results in Athens, Greece. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images Europe
European politics has been plunged into a volatile new era following a historic victory in Greece’s general election by far-left radicals committed to ending years of austerity.
More than five years into the euro crisis that started in Greece in October 2009 and raised questions about the single currency’s survival, Greek voters roundly rejected the savage spending cuts and tax rises imposed by Europe which reduced the country to penury.
The euro briefly slumped to an 11-year low in Asian trading on Monday morning, while the Greek stock market slumped 5% in volatile early trading.
Voters handed power to Alexis Tsipras, the charismatic 40-year-old former communist who leads the umbrella coalition of assorted leftists known as Syriza. He cruised to an eight-point victory over the incumbent centre-right New Democracy party, according to exit polls and projections after 99% of votes had been counted.
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The result surpassed pollster predictions and marginalised the two mainstream parties that have run the country since the military junta’s fall in 1974. It appeared, however, that Syriza would win 149 seats – just short of securing the 151 of 300 seats that would enable Tsipras to govern without coalition partners.
“The sovereign Greek people today have given a clear, strong, indisputable mandate,” Tsipras told a crowd of rapturous flag-waving party supporters. “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.”
Alexis Tsipras raises his fist to supporters after winning the elections. Photograph: Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters
Greece’s incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, whose conservative-dominated coalition had been in office since June 2012, conceded defeat early in the evening and admitted that “mistakes and injustices” had been made but insisted he was leaving office with a clear conscience. “I assumed charge of a country that was on the brink of collapse … and we restored its international credibility,” said Samaras.
Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, said the election result will increase economic uncertainty, while the chancellor, George Osborne, went further, saying that Syriza’s promises will be “very difficult to deliver and incompatible with what the eurozone currently demands of its members”.
Tsipras’s victory, widely predicted, was nonetheless stunning in scale and in impact. Single-party majorities are very rare in parliamentary systems in Europe these days, in recent years occurring in only Hungary and Slovakia under strongman leaders of the right and left. For an upstart party such as Syriza, which has never been tested in power, the victory highlighted how five years of fiscal orthodoxy in Europe have turned politics upside down.
“I just voted for the party that’s going to change Greece; in fact, the party that is going to change the whole of Europe,” said Panagiotis, 54, a self-employed electrician voting in the Kipseli district of Athens. “There has to be change, big change. The economy has collapsed … Syriza is Greece’s hope.”
Syriza supporters in Thessaloniki celebrate as exit poll results show Syriza as a clear winner in the Greek election on Sunday. Photograph: Rex/Rex
The damning popular verdict on Europe’s response to financial meltdown is a haunting outcome for the EU’s political elite. For the first time, power has been handed to populist outsiders deeply opposed to Brussels and Berlin, albeit not anti-European, unlike their counterparts on the far right across the EU. For the first time a child of the European crisis, an explicitly anti-austerity party, will take office in the EU.
“There’s a sense that these populist movements are led by people who didn’t go to university with [the leaders] and that if you ignore them they will go away. They’ve been ignored and patronised,” said a senior EU policymaker in Brussels. “The underlying causes are economic. We want a Europe that is delivering tangible benefits to citizens. That’s not what it feels like at the moment.”
The result throws into question whether Greece will remain in the eurozone and the union overall, sets a precedent for anti-austerity insurgents elsewhere in Europe – notably in Spain, which will hold elections this year – and underlines public rejection of the policies prescribed mainly if not exclusively by Berlin in recent years.
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