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Protest vote rocks Greece loan pact

Athens, May 6: Greek voters appeared to radically redraw the political map today, bolstering the far Left and neo-Nazi Right in a wave of protest against the dominant political parties they blame for the country’s economic collapse.

The parliamentary elections were the first time that Greece’s foreign loan agreement had been put to a democratic test, and the outcome appeared clear: a rejection of the terms of the bailout and a fragmentation of the vote so severe that the front-runner is expected to have extreme difficulty in forming a government, let alone one that can either enforce or renegotiate the terms of the bailout.

The elections were seen as a pivotal test, determining both the country’s future in Europe and its prospects for economic recovery and the outcome, along with that in France, could resonate far beyond Europe, possibly leading to more upheaval in the euro zone. The early results were also a clear rebuke to European leaders that their strategy for Greece had failed.

An exit poll made public just before 9pm, nearly two hours after the polls closed, indicated that Centre-Right New Democracy party was in first place with 19 to 20.5 per cent of the vote.

But in a major shift, the Socialists, who dominated for decades and were in power when Greece asked for foreign aid in 2010, appeared to have 13 to 14 per cent of the vote, putting them behind the coalition of the radical Left, called Syriza, which opposes Greece’s agreement with its foreign lenders. Syriza appeared to be drawing 15.5 to 17 per cent of the vote.

The two main parties could still form a coalition if the findings of the exit poll, which was conducted by several firms on behalf of four television channels, are reflected in the official results. Representatives of the two main parties were quick to express their opposition to the prospect of a second round of elections.

Exit polls also showed the far-Right Golden Dawn party, whose symbol resembles the swastika and whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies, attracting 5 to 8 per cent of the vote, enough to enter Parliament for the first time.

The ultimate expression of a protest vote, the party has gained ground by campaigning on the streets of Athens, where many residents fear a sharp rise in illegal immigration and where politicians from mainstream parties have had trouble walking for fear of violent attacks from angry voters.

In a triumphant televised statement issued after the exit polls, the party’s leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, pledged to “fight the memorandum of the junta inside and outside Parliament”, a reference to the country’s debt deal with creditors.

The next government in Athens, inheriting a deepening recession and facing the likelihood of social unrest, will have to enforce a loan agreement with its creditors — the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund. The deal stipulates slashing $15.5 billion from the state budget over the next two years and completing a crucial bank recapitalisation.

 
 
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