World watches as Greece votes
Sun, June 17, 2012 - 12:01 AM
Athens (CNN) -- The men hoping to lead Greece out of the crisis that is threatening Europe's common currency promised their country a bright future on Sunday -- but they have different visions on how to go about it.
Radical leftist Alexis Tsipras, who hopes to emerge as prime minister, suggested Europe could not push Greece around any more.
"Today we open the path towards a better tomorrow, with our people united, dignified and proud. To a Greece where there's social justice and progress -- an equal member of a Europe that's changing," the leader of the Syriza party said.
His main rival, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, said simply: "Today the people of Greece speak. Tomorrow a new era begins for Greece."
They were speaking as Greeks voted in parliamentary elections that will determine who leads a country paralyzed for months by a political and economic crisis.
The party that wins the most seats gets the first chance to form a government.
Syriza was neck-and-neck with New Democracy in the last official polls two weeks ago. No new polls are allowed 14 days before the vote.
The election could decide the fate of the euro, a currency used by 325 million people across 17 countries in Europe.
Tsipras has vowed to tear up the conditions attached to massive international loans that are keeping Greece from defaulting on its debts.
The possibility that he could emerge as prime minister has prompted waves of fear that Greece could crash out of the euro and Europe's ambitious experiment with a common currency could collapse.
Some analysts have estimated that the collapse of the euro would cost $1 trillion, while others say talk of the break-up of the currency is alarmist and unlikely to happen.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe's most powerful advocate of balancing budgets to build a strong basis for economic growth, urged Greeks not to walk away from international loan deals.
"We will stick to the agreements. That is the basis on which Europe will prosper," she said Saturday.
The center-right New Democracy party favors sticking to the terms of the unpopular deal with Greece's lenders, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. They demanded public spending cuts to slash Greece's enormous deficit.
The radical left-wing Syriza party wants to tear up the current bailout agreement, an act that markets fear will lead to a "disorderly exit" from the eurozone.
Neither party is likely to get a majority on its own, and will need to form a coalition with other parties in order to govern.
Sunday's election was called after an initial ballot on May 6, the first since Greece's financial crisis exploded, failed to deliver a majority for any one party. Talks to create a government failed.
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