Greece's national election and could gather enough support to form a pro-bailout coalition to keep the country in the eurozone.
As central banks stood ready to intervene in case of financial turmoil, Greece held its second national election in just six weeks to try to select a new government after an inconclusive ballot on May 6. Sunday's vote was seen as crucial for Europe and the world, since it could determine whether Greece is forced to leave the joint euro currency, a move that could have potentially catastrophic consequences for other ailing European nations and the global economy.
Although official projections showed that no party will win enough seats in the 300-member parliament to form a government on its own, Greece's two traditional parties -- the conservative New Democracy and the socialist PASOK -- would have enough seats to form a coalition together. They have both expressed a willingness to work with other European nations to stay in the 17-nation eurozone.
The projections showed New Democracy winning 29.5 per cent and 128 seats. The radical left Syriza party, which has vowed to repeal Greece's international bailout deal, was expected to come in second with 27.1 per cent and 72 seats. PASOK trails with 12.3 per cent and 33 seats. To form a majority government, a coalition would need at least 151 seats.
The parties vying to win have starkly different views about what to do about the USD 300 billion in bailout loans that Greece has been given by international lenders.
Greece has been dependent on rescue loans since May 2010, after sky-high borrowing rates left it locked out of the international markets following years of profligate spending and falsifying financial data. The spending cuts made in return have left the country mired in a fifth year of recession, with unemployment spiraling to above 22% and tens of thousands of businesses shutting down.
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras says his top priority is to stay in the euro but has promised to renegotiate some terms of the bailout.
Syriza head Alexis Tsipras, a 37-year-old former student activist, has vowed to cancel the terms of Greece's international bailout deal and repeal its austerity measures.
"There are many power-sharing possibilities that include a vote of tolerance from parties," Syriza member Nikos Voutsis said on state television. "But we'll see.'"
The party that comes first in today's vote gets a bonus of 50 seats in the 300-member Parliament and gets the first try at forming a new government with a majority in Parliament.
If they fail, the next highest party gets to try.
Earlier, the exit polls projected seven parties in all beating the 3% threshold for seats in Parliament, including the extremist right-wing Golden Dawn party, which vehemently rejects the neo-Nazi label but has been blamed for numerous violent attacks against immigrants.
Golden Dawn was projected at winning between 6 and 7.5%, roughly maintaining the level of the nearly 7% it won in May -- a meteoric rise for a fringe party that had polled at just 0.3%.
The small Democratic Left party was projected at winning between 5.5 and 6.5%, with the right-wing Independent Greeks tied with Golden Dawn at 6-7.5%.