Greek leftist Tsipras returns in unexpectedly decisive vote win

Updated: 2015-09-21 07:59


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Greek leftist Tsipras returns in unexpectedly decisive vote win

Supporters of leftist Syriza party react at the party's main election kiosk after seeing the results following a general election in Athens, Greece, September 20, 2015. Greek voters returned Alexis Tsipras to power with a strong election victory on Sunday, ensuring the charismatic leftist remains Greece's dominant political figure despite caving in to European demands for a bailout he once opposed. [Photo/Agencies]


Tsipras resigned and called the election last month when his party split over his reversal on the bailout, which he had accepted despite having won an overwhelming referendum mandate in July to reject similar terms.

Many Greeks expressed weariness with politics during the campaign, tired of voting and frightened by the prospect of still more uncertainty that would worsen one of the worst depressions to hit an industrialised country in modern times.

"I voted, but with a heavy heart," said Despina Biri, 29.

Sunday's ballot was the third national vote this year, including the referendum. Turnout was around 55 percent compared with 63 percent in January's election.

Some voters said they backed Syriza because Tsipras needed time to finish the job he began.

"They were ... the ones who signed the bailout so they have to implement it," said Fani Arvanitidi, 70.

The firebrand leftist fought hard for Greece to be let off harsh austerity rules imposed by international creditors, only to back down after Greece's banks were shut and the country was pushed to the wall.

More than two dozen of his lawmakers abandoned him last month, many saying he had betrayed his principles. He argued that his tough negotiating stance had softened the blow of austerity and had helped persuade creditors to agree a restructuring of Greek debt.

His centre-right opponents argued that his erratic leadership had worsened the economic crisis, throttling a recovery that had just begun before he took power.

But with Tsipras and his main opponents now all committed to the bailout, the deep divisions that had polarised Greece and given rise to volatile politics appear less extreme for now.

Apart from Golden Dawn and the communist KKE party, the major parties in the new parliament have now all accepted the cash-for-reforms deal to keep Greece in the euro zone.

"After years of almost unprecedented crisis, the vast majority of Greeks are endorsing parties that are promising to keep the country in the euro even if that implies thorough and painful reforms," Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Germany's Berenberg bank said.

For former allies still opposed to EU-imposed austerity, however, Tsipras is a turncoat.

Yanis Varoufakis, the outspoken former finance minister who infuriated EU officials with his refusal to accept their proposals, called the election "the 'legalisation' of the capitulation that followed the signing of the dead end, humiliating and irrational" bailout.

The new government will also need to respond to Greece's central role in Europe's migration crisis, which could intensify as countries further along the land route north across the Balkans shut down their frontiers.

In a painful reminder of that crisis, 13 migrants died in Turkish waters on Sunday when a boat carrying 46 people en route to Greece collided with a dry cargo vessel and capsized, a Turkish coast guard source said.

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