- - Sunday, May 6, 2012

ATHENS — Fringe political parties made major gains and won seats in parliament for the first time as voters shunned the two ruling parties held responsible for Greece’s dire economic situation.

With 83 percent of the vote counted Sunday night, the two mainstream parties won barely one-third of the vote combined, compared to the three-quarters they normally have received in elections over the past four decades. The conservative front-runner New Democracy led with almost 20 percent of the vote, and socialist PASOK drew just 13.5 percent, one-third of its share in its 2009 victory.

Meanwhile, the Coalition of the Radical Left won 16.4 percent, displacing PASOK as the second-largest party, while the far-right Golden Dawn won 7 percent, compared to just 0.3 percent in 2009.

Analysts say the elections will completely reshape the Greek political landscape for the first time since the 1970s.

“What we are witnessing is the death of the old political alignments, which have prevailed in the country for decades,” said Costas Lapavitsas, a professor of economics at the University of London.

“But we are not witnessing the birth of a coherent new political force. This will not be a stable government.”

A majority of Greek voters cast protest votes, choosing to support one of the 30 fringe parties taking part in the elections, including the Communist Party, the People’s Orthodox Rally and the Democratic Left. It was unclear how many of those parties won enough support to meet the 3 percent threshold required to enter parliament.

“I’m definitely not voting for the two bigger parties, because they’ve brought us to this terrible situation,” said a 30-year-old saleswoman who gave her name only as Gianna before going to the polls in Athens.

Since the start of the crisis in 2008, Greeks have faced tax hikes and welfare cuts to combat spiraling debt and to secure financial help from European and international banks.

In November, PASOK and New Democracy secured a bailout deal worth $173 billion, on top of a $144 billion bailout from 2010. Private-sector lenders also were forced to write off 53.5 percent of Greece’s debts.

Both PASOK and New Democracy were committed to continuing with the austerity packages, but most of the smaller parties rejected those measures.

Some analysts fear that the influx of fringe parties could make for an unstable parliament.

“There won’t be any agreement among [the parties], like there is currently with the unity government,” said Dimitris Charalambis, professor of political science at the University of Athens.

The alliance between PASOK and New Democracy under technocrat Lucas Papademos has governed the country since PASOK leader George Papandreou was forced to step down in November.

“Whatever effort the two big parties make between them to work together, it will lack legitimacy, since they won’t have the majority of the votes,” Mr. Charalambis added.

Analyst Roman Gerodimos said the economic crisis spurred voters to reject the two main parties, which they have supported for decades despite major scandals.

“People are facing the economic crisis, and they are feeling it in their own pockets. Their own savings are going down, if they have any. They are in debt. Their households are in crisis. Many of them are unemployed, and those who are employed don’t get paid sometimes,” said Mr. Gerodimos, a senior lecturer in international affairs at Britain’s Bournemouth University.

c Louise Osborne reported from Berlin.



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