Greeks fed up with austerity voted yesterday in elections that could decide their future in the eurozone amid unprecedented external pressure not to vote for a radical leftist party.
About 9.8 million Greeks began voting in a showdown between the conservative New Democracy party and the anti-austerity SYRIZA party that has spooked European leaders and the markets.
“I hope that the vote will lead us to the formation of a stable government that will immediately address the problems troubling the Greek people,” Greek President Carolos Papoulias said after casting his vote.
The ballot opened smoothly, but later a prominent TV station, Skai TV, was evacuated after an apparent bomb threat.
“Somebody threw a grenade outside the station and the building has been evacuated until the police bomb squad can examine it,” a staff member said.
It was not immediately clear if the grenade, which failed to explode, was live, a police source said.
The man at the center of international concern, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, said his side would win and Greece would keep its place as an “equal” member in a “changing” Europe.
“We have conquered fear,” Tsipras said after casting his vote in the working-class Athens district of Kypseli, an apparent reference to criticism that his threat to scrap a multibillion-dollar EU-IMF loan agreement endangers Greece’s eurozone membership.
Greek newspapers said the vote was the most critical since the end of military rule in 1974, as conservative leader Antonis Samaras said a “new era” would begin for the recession-hit eurozone state today.
“Today, the Greek people speak. Tomorrow, a new era starts for Greece,” Samaras said in his hometown of Pylos in the southern Peloponnese Peninsula.
“We must have a strong united front and international credibility to achieve the best for Greeks, inside the eurozone, whilst keeping all that is positive in the loan agreement, all that is positive about the country’s European character,” Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos said.
Venizelos is seen as the most likely partner for the conservatives in a coalition government.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said it was “extremely important” for Greeks to elect lawmakers who would respect the terms of the bailout, which Tsipras says will be “history” today.
Germany’s Bild newspaper added to tensions ahead of the vote with an open letter telling Greeks their ATMs had euros only because “we put them there.”
“If the parties who want to be through with austerity and reforms win the election and contravene every agreement, we will stop paying,” it said.
Tsipras says that the mood in Europe is shifting against austerity and that the EU and IMF would not want to risk a Greek eurozone exit that would send shockwaves through the global economy.
Samaras wants a more moderate renegotiation of the bailout deal and says that a vote for Tsipras could bring back the old drachma currency.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Greeks want to keep the euro.