- - Sunday, September 20, 2015

ATHENS — Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared on track to return to power in Greek elections Sunday, in a stunning reversal just three weeks after he resigned due to abandoning the anti-austerity stand that initially propelled him to power in January.

The main opposition party, the right-leaning New Democracy, conceded defeat after Mr. Tsipras’s Syriza party led 35.5 to 28 percent, with just over half of the votes counted. The far-right Golden Dawn party followed with 7.1 percent of the vote.

Despite an intense national debate over the harsh EU bailout plan Mr. Tsipras negotiated, Syriza in early results lost very little of its support: It won the election in January with 36.3 percent of the vote.

“The Greek people gave us a clear mandate that we continue fighting inside and outside the country,” Mr. Tsipras, a 41-year-old one-time civil engineer and leftist activist, said after the win, vowing to wage a war against what he refers as the old system, corrupt system. “This fight — we will continue it for four full years — because this was a mandate for four years.”

New Democracy’s Evangelos Meimarakis said the “battle is over” and called for Syriza to quickly form a government, while offering to cooperate: It is unlikely Syriza will have enough of the final vote to govern alone and has already announced it will form a coalition government as it did earlier this year.

The mood following the apparent victory was far more subdued than after January’s breakthrough win for the left: no big festivities or celebratory speeches. Some say that is because this time, the election isn’t about fighting the EU austerity program but about managing the $97 billion agreement and implementing the new and painful cuts that Syriza, which came to power vowing to defy Brussels, finally was forced to swallow.

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The new mandate may prove a double-edged victory. The economy has been in recession since 2010. The gross domestic product has declined 25 percent since then, while a quarter of Greeks are unemployed. Wages and pensions have fallen by 40 percent and one-third of the population lives under the poverty line.

The next government will have to work under the European Union’s tight watch as it implements budget cuts, tax hikes and other reforms, and European leaders have repeatedly said that their patience is running out.

“Drafting a pension reform plan, laying the foundations for a new privatization fund and overseeing the recapitalization of Greek banks are among the most demanding tasks,” said Nick Malkoutzis, editor of Greek political and economic analysis website MacroPolis. “The biggest challenge for the new administration will be maintaining its unity and direction under the pressure of carrying out such momentous and demanding reforms.”

Analysts predict that outside of an outright majority for Syriza, Greece is headed for another unstable coalition government, likely with its former partner, the Independent Greeks, a right-leaning party. At the same time, Syriza also has internal divisions over policy that could lead to more factional infighting mainly over its agreeing to the new bailout terms in August.

Even so, Syriza voters did not stray, in spite of the party’s about-face.

“Syriza probably owes much to the desire among many Greeks to move away from the rule of New Democracy and PASOK, which had been in power for four decades until January,” said Mr. Malkoutzis, referring to the Panhellenic Socialist Movement in power. “Syriza campaigned along the ‘new versus old’ theme. It’s questionable whether many Greeks accepted that genuinely represents the new but there seems to have been quite a few who were very clear about what represents the old, and that isn’t Syriza.”

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Greeks Sunday voted in their third national election in nine months, including a referendum on the bailout. Now, some say they want political stability to pave the way for economic recovery. This summer saw the imposition of capital controls to stop locals from transferring their money abroad.

Some voters said they remain pessimistic over the future.

“I don’t have high hopes, I believe they are all filthy liars, the minute they come into power they forget what they said and they fail miserably to deliver their promises,” said Elen Tsourounaki, 36, a professor of English, “I hope there will be a government that eventually will put the house in order or else we will be doomed to failure.”

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