Syriza returns to power in Greek general election

The Guardian — Greece’s leftwing leader Alexis Tsipras has emerged triumphant from a snap general election after securing a dramatic victory over his conservative rival, despite a turbulent first term in office.

There had been predictions that the race was too close to call after he accepted a crushing eurozone-led austerity programme during his first term in office, but the charismatic leader looked set to be returned to power with a near repeat of the stunning win that catapulted his Syriza party into office in January.

With 99.5% of votes counted, Syriza had claimed 35.5% of the vote, easily seeing off the main conservative challengers New Democracy on 28.1%.

The interior ministry said that gave Syriza 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament, just four fewer than when Tsipras first stormed to power early this year.

Speaking in Athens, Tsipras declared: “This victory belongs to the people and those who dream of a better tomorrow and we’ll achieve it with hard work.”

Jubilant supporters, clearly relieved at the result, took to the streets in celebration, with many singing and dancing outside Syriza’s main election marquee in central Athens.

Tsipras told supporters that he would tackle endemic corruption in the country. “The mandate that the Greek people have given is is a crystal clear mandate to get rid of the regime of corruption and vested issues,” he said. “We will show how effective we will be. We will make Greece a stronger place for the weak and vulnerable, a fairer place.”

Syriza officials said that although the party had not gained an outright majority, they would immediately set about forming a stable government, with a view to keeping the crisis-plagued country, bailed out for a third time this summer, on track with its European lenders.

The small anti-austerity right-wing Independent Greeks party, the leftists former coalition party, was prepared to enter a power-sharing arrangement with Syriza, said its leader, Panos Kammenos, joining Tsipras on stage as both men celebrated.

As the scale of the victory became clear, the conservative leader, Vangelis Meimarakis conceded defeat. “The election result, it seems, shows that the first party is Syriza and Tsipras. I congratulate him.”

Tsipras fought an uphill battle following his spectacular U-turn on previous promises to tear up the excoriating bailout agreements successive Greek governments had signed with international creditors.

The 41-year-old leader went to the polls in January promising to roll back austerity measures imposed by the so-called troika of international lenders – the European commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – but was instead forced to accept even harsher terms in July after Greece teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and a eurozone exit. As part of the €86bn (£63bn) bailout deal, Tsipras agreed to significant pension reforms, tax rises and a major privatisation programme.

Tsipras resigned from his post as prime minister in August after his decision to sign the controversial, EU-backed bailout drove a wedge through Syriza.

In a four-week campaign, noticeable for its lacklustre feel in the wake of the draining bailout saga, almost every poll depicted a neck-and-neck race between the two main parties.

Syriza hardliners appalled by the party’s acceptance of austerity policies had broken ranks last month to form their own anti-eurozone front, Popular Unity. Tsipras was then forced to declare the need for a fresh mandate to further consolidate his power and implement the bailout package.

“The Greek people clearly wanted Alexis Tsipras, they had confidence in Alexis Tsipras and we have a clear, four-year mandate ahead of us,” said the Syriza MP Vangelis Apostolou.

French president François Hollande, a key ally of the Greek government during the summer’s fraught bailout negotiations, was quick to congratulate Tsipras and predict that Greece could enjoy a period of welcome stability.

“This is an important outcome for Greece, which will now live through a stabilisation period with a solid majority,” he said. “It is an important success for Europe, which must listen to the Greeks’ message.”

The European parliament president, Martin Schulz, tweeted his congratulations, along with a warning that Tsipras cannot row back on the country’s bailout commitments.