Greek conservative leader Antonis Samaras will have three days to form a coalition government, after his pro-bailout party won the most seats in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Samaras met Monday with Greek President Carolos Papoulias, who gave him a mandate to pursue coalition talks.
The conservative New Democracy party won 30 percent of the vote to take 129 of the 300 seats in parliament, including the 50-seat bonus given to the party with the most votes.
The radical leftist, anti-bailout Syriza party came in second with 71 seats, while the pro-bailout PASOK Socialists won 33 seats – likely enough to help form a ruling coalition.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a joint statement the European Union looks forward to working with the new government and supporting efforts to put Greece’s economy on “a sustainable path.”
Samaras called the result a victory for all of Europe.
“Today the Greek people expressed their will to stay anchored with the euro, remain an integral part of the euro zone, honor the country’s commitments and force their growth,” he said.
Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and a major contributor to Greece’s two multi-billion-dollar bailouts – suggested Greece could get more time to comply with sharp spending cuts tied to the rescue funds.
Ben Wellings, a European analyst at the Australian National University, says that Germany seems to be softening its long-held stance of opposing renegotiating the terms.
“That is to say, there may be longer for the Greeks to pay back, which would have the impact from the German point of view, and presumably from the Greek center parties’ point of view, of easing a little the cuts that have to be made, or at least spreading them out over a longer period, and thereby lessening the impact on the citizens of Greece,” said Wellings.
New Democracy has promised to renegotiate the harsh austerity conditions demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party, had called for annulling the austerity package altogether, a decision that could have forced Greece to leave Europe’s common currency. He made clear after the results that Syriza would move forward as an opposition party.
Adian Foster, head of financial markets research at Hong Kong-based Rabobank International, says it makes sense for Greece to revisit the lending terms.
“I think there is, as I say, a broader acceptance around Europe that it has been overly stringent,” said Foster. “But I do think that with the election of these pro-austerity or pro-European support package parties I think the funding troika – the creditor troika – will be getting more of its own way than would have been the case if indeed the more left-leaning parties had won the Greek election.”
In Washington, a White House statement said that “as President Obama and other world leaders have said, we believe that it is in all our interests for Greece to remain in the euro area while respecting its commitment to reform.”
Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, said the election result is good for Greece and the European Union as a whole.
“I am absolutely convinced that this reinforces the euro and that soon Green will feel the effects of this decision that all citizens have taken,” he said.
Sunday’s vote came after an election last month in which no party secured enough votes to form a government.
The monetary crisis in Greece, which first exploded in 2009, set off a chain reaction across Europe. Greece is now in its fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiraling to above 22 percent. Opinion polls show that Greeks overwhelmingly favor remaining in the euro, but are just as opposed to the austerity drive.