Opinion polls showed Greek radical leftist SYRIZA party, which wants to scrap the deal, running neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy, which broadly backs it, reports Reuters.
Radical leftist and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who hopes to emerge as prime minister, suggested Europe could not push Greece around any more.
“Today we open the path towards a better tomorrow, with our people united, dignified and proud. To a Greece where there’s social justice and progress — an equal member of a Europe that’s changing,” Tsipras said.
According to CNN, his main rival, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, said simply: “Today the people of Greece speak. Tomorrow a new era begins for Greece.”
The European Union and International Monetary Fund have announced the conditions of the 130-billion-euro ($164-billion) bailout accord agreed in March must be accepted fully by a new government or funds will be cut off, driving Greece into bankruptcy.
According to opinion polls, Greeks, weary after five years of deep recession, overwhelmingly favour remaining in the euro, but there is bitter anger over repeated rounds of tax hikes, slashed spending and sharp cuts in wages, says CNBC.
“It’s the first time I feel depressed after voting, knowing that I voted again for those who created the problem, but we don’t have another choice,” said 66-year-old English teacher Koula Louizopoulou after casting her ballot in Athens.
“I voted for the bailout because these are the terms that will keep us in Europe,” she added.
Yannos Papantoniou, who was the Greek finance minister at the time the country adopted the euro, noted that the vote was a referendum on being in the common currency.
He also said the country needed to implement three changes to its plans to enable it to emerge from the crisis: An extension to the fiscal deficit demands; a commitment to stop lowering incomes and raise taxes; and a European “Marshall Plan” to promote investment and foster growth.
At the meantime, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most powerful advocate of balancing budgets to build a strong basis for economic growth, urged Greeks not to walk away from international loan deals.
“We will stick to the agreements. That is the basis on which Europe will prosper,” Merkel said on Saturday.
Central banks from Tokyo to London are preparing their arsenals to defend banks and national currencies against any post-election turmoil.
The result will be discussed at a meeting of the Group of 20 world economic powers on Monday and Tuesday in Mexico.
Sunday’s election was called after an initial ballot on May 6, the first since Greece’s financial crisis exploded, failed to deliver a majority for any one party. Talks to create a government failed.
The party gaining the most votes gets an automatic 50-seat advantage. Neither New Democracy or SYRIZA is expected to have an outright majority and whichever emerges as the top party will have to hold coalition negotiations with smaller groups.
Five opinion polls published before a blackout put New Democracy narrowly ahead. Two other polls had SYRIZA leading.