ATHENS — Greece’s pro-European New Democracy party finished first in critical parliamentary elections Sunday, making a strong enough showing to form a coalition government and to reassure European partners that Greece will continue repaying its debts.
Ending six weeks of uncertainty in which no party was able to form a government after a first round vote – and with an upstart leftist party calling for a halt in debt repayment – New Democracy won 29.08 percent of the vote, assuring it 129 seats in the 300-seat parliament, according to provisional results with 92.5 percent of the ballots counted.
Together with the severely weakened Socialist PASOK party – and possibly the small Democratic Left – as partners in a governing coalition, the center-rightist New Democracy leader, Antonio Samaras, should be able to form a majority, although its stability and longevity remain to be seen.
“We will respect the signature and the obligations of the country,” said Samaras, a former Greek foreign minister, reaffirming the country’s commitment to repay the 240 billion euro ($303 billion) bailout package. Greek willingness to uphold the terms of the bailout – as the leaders of Germany and other creditor nations have demanded – has emerged as a key factor in its ability to remain in the euro currency zone.
European governments and major markets may breathe a sigh of relief, but it could be temporary, for the turmoil in Greece is far from over. The country has suffered 13 consecutive quarters of recession under the austerity program, with the economy shrinking by 15.9 percent. The unemployment rate is 22.6 percent – a staggering 52.7 percent for Greeks 24 and younger.
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