ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The left-wing opposition Syriza party has succeeded in capturing first place in Greece's election for the European Parliament, leading the conservative New Democracy party by about 3.5 percent.
The radical left party, which has been fiercely critical of the austerity policies pursued since 2010 by the heavily indebted country and imposed by its creditors, claimed an important victory in Greece's local and regional elections by winning the Attica region, where almost 30 percent of all Greek voters are registered.
With about 55 percent of all votes cast counted, Syriza leads New Democracy, the senior party in Greece's coalition government, by 26.6 percent to 23 percent. It is set to send six deputies to the new European Parliament to New Democracy's five.
The extreme right Golden Dawn party was third with 9.4 percent, despite the fact that its leader and several lawmakers are in jail, pending trial, and several others face indictments, for criminal acts ranging from murder to arson to extortion. The formerly marginal neo-Nazi organization, which had polled less than 0.5 percent in the previous European election in 2009, will send have 3 deputies in the new European parliament.
The Olive Tree center-left list, led by the socialist PASOK party, New Democracy's partner in the coalition government, is earning 8.01 percent and will elect 2 eurodeputies. Voters also elected 2 MEPs from center-left list To Potami, a newly-formed party formed recently by journalist Stavros Theodorakis and whose candidate list was composed exclusively of political novices.
Also electing 2 lawmakers is the Greek Communist Party, while the right-wing-populist Independent Greeks just made it over the 3 percent threshold to elect one MEP. Voting went off mostly without incident. And celebrations by winners were muted and small-scale.
Early Sunday, two shots were fired at the socialist party headquarters with an AK-47 assault rifle, police said. The building was empty at the time and no one was hurt. The coalition government insisted that it will continue with its reform policies, while trying its best to correct iniquities. It ruled out new national elections.
"The Greek people have sent a message to the government and rejected Syriza's call for a profound change," said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. "Today's result has torn apart any pretense to popular support (for the government) even though they pretend not to understand," said Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who called for national elections.
In the regional elections, Syriza succeeded in snagging two of Greece's thirteen regions, including Attica, the largest prize, which includes the capital, Athens. New Democracy won six regions and a dissident conservative won one over the official New Democracy candidate. The socialists won two regions, and one each went to a joint conservative-socialist candidate and one endorsed by the Independent Greeks.
In mayoral elections, Athens and Thessaloniki, the two biggest cities, were won by the incumbents, both center-left. Piraeus, the port of Athens, was won by an independent candidate who is a manager for the powerful local Olympiakos soccer club. He defeated the conservative incumbent. His boss, Olympiakos' owner, ran as a municipal councilor.