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Greece election: Voting begins in tight race

Voting has begun in Greece’s general election, with opinion polls indicating a tight race between the left-wing incumbent Syriza party and the conservative New Democracy.

The snap election, Greece’s fifth in six years, was called after Syriza lost its parliamentary majority in August.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’s popularity plummeted after he agreed a new bailout deal with European leaders.

The bailout involved austerity measures which Syriza had vowed to oppose.

Greece is mired in a deep financial crisis and whoever wins Sunday’s election will have to oversee further tough economic reforms.

The BBC’s Richard Galpin in Athens says whichever party wins is unlikely to get enough seats to form a government alone.

That could mean a period of political instability just as deadlines loom for the implementation of a series of key financial reforms, he adds.

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Analysis: Richard Galpin, BBC News, Athens

Most opinion polls indicate the conservative party New Democracy and Syriza are running very close.

But unlike last January’s election, there is little excitement about Sunday’s vote; campaigning has been lacklustre and the response of the electorate muted.

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Syriza’s high noon has passed, the party and its leader bruised by their experience in government.

Mr Tsipras’s decision to abandon the anti-austerity stance which had propelled him into government, and instead sign a bailout deal with Greece’s European creditors, fractured Syriza, with 25 MPs setting up their own parliamentary party.


Mr Tsipras said Greeks would elect “a fighting government” that will “move on with necessary reforms and break with the old regime”, as he cast his ballot on Sunday morning in the Athens district of Kypseli.

The former Greek prime minister signed the bailout deal shortly after a referendum in which more than 60% of voters rejected the austerity measures creditors wanted to impose.

In interviews leading up to the election, Mr Tsipras said he had put his country above his party. He said that had he not agreed to the three-year bailout, Greece would probably have had to leave the eurozone.

A Greek Orthodox priest exits a voting booth holding his ballot at a station in Athens on 20 September 2015
Image copyrightReuters
Image captionIt is the third time Greeks are casting their ballots in national polls this year
A man checks his name to vote at a polling station in Thessaloniki, on 20 September 2015.
Image copyrightAFP
Image captionMore than 9.8m people have registered to vote

He told Antenna TV on Friday he would “tug the rope” to try to win relief on Greece’s huge national debt from EU creditors.

His main rival, New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis, has dismissed Mr Tsipras’s term in office as “an experiment that cost [the country] dearly”.

“I fear that if Syriza is elected… the country will soon be led to elections again, and this would be disastrous,” he said.

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Greece’s turbulent year

29 December: Greek parliament fails to elect president, leading to snap elections a month later

25 January 2015: Leftist Syriza party’s Alexis Tsipras elected PM on an anti-austerity manifesto

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24 February: Greece’s European lenders agree to extend its second bailout by four months

June: Marathon talks take place to avoid Greece bankruptcy and possibly leaving the eurozone. PM Tsipras calls a referendum on a possible bailout agreement

5 July: Greek voters overwhelmingly reject terms of third EU bailout in referendum vote

14 August: Greece agrees €85bn (£60bn) bailout deal with its creditors – its third in five years – allowing tax hikes and new spending cuts. Mr Tsipras resigns a week later clearing the way for snap elections in September, as he seeks a new mandate

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Leader of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras holds his ballot as he enters the polling booth before voting for the general elections at a polling station in Athens, Greece, on 20 September 2015.
Image copyrightReuters
Image captionAlexis Tsipras has issued a plea for a high turn-out in the polls
New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis addresses supporters. 17 Sept 2015
Image copyrightReuters
Image captionNew Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis is a former defence minister

Commentators say there is also a tight race for third place between the socialist Pasok party and the far-right Golden Dawn.

Analysts have said the migrant crisis on Greece’s doorstep may boost support for Golden Dawn, which is strongly opposed to immigration.

Polls close at 16:00 GMT, with the first projected results expected two hours later.

Nearly 10m Greeks have registered to vote.


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