Exit polls for Greece’s general election point to a victory for the anti-austerity, left-wing Syriza party as voting ends in a milestone event for the crisis-hit country.
“First exit polls suggest a potential ten percent victory for the party,” said Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Athens, just after polls closed on Friday at 6pm (1700:GMT).
Syriza received between 35.5 and 39.5 percent of the national vote, ahead of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ centre-right New Democracy party, which took 23 to 27 percent, according to multiple polls by Metron Analysis, GPO, Alco, MRB and Marc.
The far-right Golden Dawn and pro-European To Potami are in a neck-and-neck race for third place with percentages between 6.4 and eight percent respectively, according to polls.
Barring a huge upset, victory for Syriza, which had led opinion polls for months, would produce the first government in the eurozone openly committed to cancelling the austerity terms of its EU and IMF-backed bailout programme.
A Syriza win would represent another turning point for Europe after last week’s announcement by the European Central Bank of a massive injection of cash into the bloc’s flagging economy after years of trying to clamp down on budgets and pushing countries to pass structural reforms.
Nearly 9.8 million Greeks were registered to vote in the election.
Al Jazeera’s Phillips said the elections went smoothly without any problems.
“Greeks are experienced with elections as this is the fifth general election in recent years, displaying the crisis-hit country’s political instability,” Phillips said.
Syriza’s policies have appealed to many groups hit by the economic crisis facing Greece, one group in particular are young people, among whom as many as 50 percent are unemployed.
“The majority of Greeks believe that austerity measures are imposed on them by well-off northern European countries, particularly Germany,” Phillips added.
“European capitals will be closely watching the election results in the next few hours.”
While Syriza is expected to form the largest group in the 300-seat parliament, it is unclear if it will be able to govern alone or have to form a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties.
Final polls before the elections on Friday gave the party led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras a lead of up to 6.7 points, with 31.2 to 33.4 percent of the vote, close to the level needed for an outright victory.
Three out of four polls showed Syriza widening the gap over the centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
After its most severe crisis since the fall of its military government in 1974, Greece’s economy has shrunk by some 25 percent, thousands of businesses have closed, wages and pensions have been slashed and unemployment among young people is over 50 percent.
At the same time, its massive public debt has climbed from 146 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 175.5 percent last year, the second highest in the world.