Greeks Vote in Decisive Early Election
Voting is under way in Greece on Sunday in a snap parliamentary election widely believed to be decisive about the country's economic future.
The vote was triggered by a failure to elect a head of state in Greece's Parliament in December, with the single candidate Stavros Dimas unable to muster enough support from lawmakers during three consecutive sessions.
Many opinion polls have been the victory of leftist SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) which is seeking to renegotiate the country's bailout program. Its leader Alexis Tsipras is determined to have part of the country's massive debt written off and to reverse some of the austerity measures imposed under the conditions of a loan agreement between Athens and the "troika" of lenders earlier in the 2010s.
For Athens, an outright victory of SYRIZA could result in producing the first radical leftist government in Europe.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who heads the main governing party, conservative New Democracy, has been arguing Greece is now back on its feet.
SYRIZA's lead on New Democracy in most polls has fueled speculations that Greece could have to leave the Eurozone (and will be allowed to do so) if Tsipras wins, though a number of EU officials and experts have downplayed this scenario.
It is also unclear whether the leftist coalition will get an absolute majority in the vote, but this might not be necessary, since under Greece's electoral system which includes both majority and proportional elements, a party that wins the vote is rewarded with a 50-seat bonus in the 300-strong Greek Parliament.
In case Tsipras fails to attain majority in Parliament, he might seek an alliance with either Independent Greeks, another anti-austerity party, or the Movement of Democratic Socialists, which does not rule out such a development.
Newly-founded To Potami, a centrist party, and far-right Golden Dawn are to contend for a third place in the vote.
Socialist PASOK, the party whose reputation was severely tarnished as the debt crisis began (since it was governing at the time), might remain under the threshold of three percent, despite currently being a coalition partner to Samaras.
The electoral output of former PM George Papandreou's Movement of Democratic Socialists, which splintered off PASOK, is also estimated to remain below the threshould. Papandreou resigned under pressure in 2011 with many pointing to him and his predecessors (him being only the last in a dynasty of political leaders) as the culprit for the country's problems.
About 9.8 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday.
In 2014 Greece successfully emerged out of a six-year-long recession which left its economy shrunken by about 25 percent and left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed as a result of the austerity measures.
The country's debt is now standing at 175.5 percent of GDP, but Athens says it will not need any additional "Troika" funding to tackle it.
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