Pro-Bailout Party Leads Greek Vote

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The conservative New Democracy party has finished first in the Greek election, boosting the prospects that the country will remain in the eurozone. The radical left Syriza party, which wants Greece to ignore its international commitments, finished second.


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Greek voters took part today in what are surely the most watched elections in Europe with the future of the eurozone hinged on the outcome. The pro-bailout conservatives have edged out the anti-austerity leftists in the poll. The New Democracy party beat the radical left party, Syriza, by less than two percentage points. But New Democracy doesn't have enough votes to form a parliamentary majority, so politicians will have to form a coalition.

Joanna Kakissis is on the line from Athens to tell us what it all means. And, Joanna, how's it going tonight? What does it all mean?

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Well, what it really means is that Greeks are divided about what they want to do right now. They are - they definitely support the euro, and that's clear in the election results. But what's also clear is that they don't exactly trust the New Democracy party, which is part of the Old Guard, which they feel the Old Guard - meaning New Democracy and PASOK or the socialist party - have been corrupt to the country, and that's the reason that Greece is in this position in the first place.

So, you know, in the polls today, when I was talking to voters, there was a lot of concern. There was a lot of fear. And there were a lot of people who were saying, well, we'll just vote for the guy that we know rather than the guy that we don't know because, you know, it could all blow up. But there's no other excitement for New Democracy winning. There's just a lot of concern overall about the fate of the country.

And let's not forget that New Democracy right now needs to reach out to a second party. So Greece will have a government tomorrow. And right now, there aren't any takers. There's not - there are very many people who are interested in forming that coalition government because they don't want to be tainted by being associated with austerity and the bailout.

LYDEN: Tell us about Syriza and its position now in the coalition government. It had nearly won. It came a long way - fiery leader. What is it in now?

KAKISSIS: Yeah. Well, Syriza was - in 2009, they won less than 5 percent of the votes. So they have come a very long way. And what Syriza did was move the discussion to negotiating. Before Alexis Tsipras, who is the leader of Syriza, came forward and said, we're going to tear up the memorandum, we're going to tear up the bailout terms, and we're going to fight Europe, nobody wanted to do that. Nobody was saying we need to negotiate with Europe.

Now, everybody is saying it, including Antonis Samaras. So come Monday, Europe knows that whoever they're going to be facing across the negotiating table is going to say, we need to soften these austerity measures, and we need to talk about ways to jump-start growth in this economy.

So even though Syriza has - will probably not take part in a Greek government, they have already tremendously influenced the debate. And Syriza have already said that they don't want to form a coalition government with New Democracy because they consider the government - consider the party very corrupt and part of the pro-bailout force in Greece, which they feel is (unintelligible).

LYDEN: Joanna, I mentioned there are a lot of reactions in Athens tonight. This election was watched all around the world.

KAKISSIS: Yes. There were - and people knew it. I mean, I've talked to one guy today who said, I can't believe how many reporters have talked to me today. There were 700 reporters covering it, including about 300 foreign correspondents. And a lot of people were surprised that there was so much interest in Greece. At the same time, I think that interest, that sort of what's going to happen in Greece is going to blow up the eurozone. That really influenced how people were viewing their own votes, because most Greeks, as all polls have showed, 70 to 80 percent of Greeks don't want to leave the eurozone. And they see themselves as an integral part of Europe, even though they're a small nation.

So as they were watching all this happening, they were saying, whatever we do, whatever we do, we need to stay in Europe. And they just felt, I mean, by a small edge, that Antonis Samaras' New Democracy party was able to do that.

LYDEN: Joanna Kakissis in Athens, thank you very much.

KAKISSIS: Thank you.

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