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The victory wave from radical leftist Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras.
Reuters/Marko Djurica
The victory wave.

Greeks have handed a huge election win to a far-left anti-austerity party

By Indrani Sen

This post has been updated.

In a resounding rejection of austerity measures, Greece’s radical-left anti-euro party, Syriza, won big in Sunday’s elections, coming within spitting distance of a parliamentary majority. With more than 96% of ballots counted, Syriza controlled 149 of the parliament’s 300 seats.

“We are regaining our lost dignity … Now that we are heard by all of Europe, we will fight with the same passion, the same confidence,” Alexis Tsipras, the party’s 40-year-old leader, and the country’s likely next prime minister, told supporters in his victory speech. “So let’s go and let’s all continue this beautiful and tough fight.”

The euro sank to an 11-year low against the dollar on news of the wider-than-expected Syriza victory.

Without an outright majority in parliament, Syriza will need to form a coalition to govern. Reports by Reuters and the Wall Street Journal (paywall) suggested that the party is close to an agreement with the small right-wing party Independent Greeks—which has almost no common policy positions other than an opposition to austerity measures—and is poised to win 13 seats.

That would give the coalition at least 162 seats, for a comfortable majority in the 300 seat-legislature. Tsipras and Independent Greek leader Panos Kammenos are scheduled to meet at 10:30am local time (8:30am GMT) on Monday morning.

If Syriza can successfully find a coalition partner, it will go a long way to determining whether the upstart party will go through with its pledge to renegotiate the debts it owes to the European institutions that bailed it out, a possible precursor to Greece leaving the euro zone entirely:

Tsipras was labeled among the most dangerous men in Europe by Der Spiegel in 2012 for his threats to leave the euro zone. He has toned down his rhetoric since then, but he still has said he wants to tear up the bailout agreement and write off Greece’s enormous mountain of debt, which reached a whopping 175% of GDP in 2013.

Tsipras has even told Germans directly that they have no choice but to write off the debt: “Let me be frank. Greece’s debt is currently unsustainable and will never be serviced, especially while Greece is being subjected to continuous fiscal waterboarding.”

Some more background:

In late 2009, Greece—after much umming and ahhing—re-stated its accounts and said its debts were the highest in the country’s modern history. In 2010, it received a 110-billion-euro bailout from the euro zone. That wasn’t enough, and in 2012, another 130-billion-euro bailout was agreed upon by international lenders in return for a series of major spending cuts.

Syriza—then a coalition of leftist parties rather than a single entity—almost derailed the second bailout by winning the most votes in a general election in May 2012 on an anti-austerity platform that called for leaving the euro and returning to the drachma. But a second election was held six weeks later, won by a traditional party that backed the bailout, and Greeks have had it even tougher since then.

The reactions from political parties, world leaders, and others are pouring in: