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Faced with a brutal choice, Greek voters opted to remain on course. A conservative party and a leftist party contended for power over the weekend. The leftist party says the bailout of Greece's economy demands too much austerity from the Greeks themselves. But the leftists lost to conservatives, who said they want to comply with the bailout terms and keep the euro as Greece's currency.
Financial markets are showing relief, but the election winners are still along way from a victory of the troubled economy, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: The conservative New Democracy party won just under 30 percent and starts talks today to find partners to form a new government. But negotiations could be difficult. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras has already ruled out meeting with Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, that came in a close second.
That leftist party soared out of nowhere in just a few weeks, riding a wave of discontent over austerity and political corruption. Syriza had vowed to seek new and less punishing conditions from Greece's European lenders. But even Samaras acknowledges that the bailout terms are too tough and wants to re-negotiate them.
ANTONIS SAMARAS: We will work together with our partners in Europe in order to supplement the current policy mix with growth-enhancement policies. We are determined to do what it takes and do it fast.
BYLINE: Contrary to past elections in less economically dire times, there was little celebration in Athens last night by New Democracy supporters.
Outside the party's kiosk in Syntagma Square, people milled around, but there were few smiles. Activist Mirton Kiroussi said there's no reason to cheer.
MIRTON KIROUSSI: We are all very - we're very concerned about the next day. We are not sure about what is going to happen. We just hope.
BYLINE: Like most Greeks, Kiroussi is angered by more than two years of budget cuts and tax hikes that have brought the Greek economy to a standstill and pushed 30 percent of the population under the poverty line. She now hopes Greece's EU partners will sweeten the medicine.
KIROUSSI: This program that we must stick to is very strict. It has caused a lot of damage to Greek people, so we will really demand renegotiation.
BYLINE: But many political analysts say the next government is likely to be weak. As one commentator put it, the leftist Syriza, with the anti-austerity wind in its sails, will be a powerful opposition force.
Greeting his supporters, party leader Alexis Tsipras vowed that Syriza will be present at all developments. And he sent a message to EU leaders who openly intervened in the election campaign urging Greeks not to vote for the anti-austerity party.
ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Through translator) Today, millions of eyes in the whole Europe are turned here. Brussels knows they can no longer insist on these tough austerity conditions. It's a big conquest that we deliver to the people of Europe. The future does not belong to those who terrorize, but to those who hope.
BYLINE: Future developments depend on whether the EU partners are willing to re-negotiate. Early signals are not encouraging. Germany has said Greece has to implement the bailout agreement, and concessions are likely to be limited.
German officials view the election results as a victory of their austerity-first policies. But many analysts stress that a majority of Greeks, 55 percent, voted for parties that oppose the bailout conditions.
Greek society remains deeply unsettled. And there's the specter of further social unrest with the unexpected success of a party, many of whose members express neo-Nazi sympathies. The ultra-rightwing Golden Dawn, which was non-existent two months ago, shot to 7 percent, and will put 18 deputies in parliament. New Democracy's success may prove a Pyrrhic victory.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.
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