ATHENS - Greek voters narrowly favored a center-right party in Parliamentary elections Sunday, a result that is likely to calm world markets and ease fears that the country will leave the eurozone.
Official results showed the conservative New Democracy Party as coming in first, giving it the chance to collect enough support to form a probailout coalition and keep Greece in the eurozone.
Late Sunday, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza Party, conceded the election, according to the Associated Press, and congratulated the conservative leader of New Democracy, Antonis Samaras. Syriza had called for a rejection of the loan deal that Greece had made with foreign creditors.
Though no party is expected to earn enough seats in the 300-member Parliament to form a government unilaterally, the results show the two traditional parties - New Democracy and the socialist PASOK - would get enough seats to form a pro-bailout coalition.
With 82 percent of the vote counted, official results gave New Democracy 30 percent of the vote and 130 seats. The antibailout Syriza Party was in second place with 26.6 percent and 71 seats. PASOK trailed with 12.5 percent and 33 seats. The nationalist Golden Dawn Party and the Democratic left trailed with less than 7 percent each.
To form a majority government, a coalition would need at least 151 seats.
Samaras said Sunday’s choice was one between keeping the euro and returning to Greece’s old currency, the drachma. He has pledged to renegotiate some of the bailout’s harsher terms but said the country must remain in Europe’s joint currency.
“The Greek people today voted for Greece to remain on its European path and in the eurozone,’’ the AP quoted Samaras as saying after the results were announced. “[Voters chose] policies that will bring jobs, growth, justice, and security.’’
New Democracy placed first in the elections on May 6 but failed to form a government with its former rivals, the Socialists.
This time around, the parties do not have the luxury of squabbling over their differences and must form a coalition, however short-lived, because without foreign financing, Greece is expected to run out of money to meet expenses as soon as next month.
But any new leader will face an uphill battle to inject confidence into a paralyzed economy that depends heavily on the continued infusion of money from the European Central Bank. The bank has become the last lifeline for a financial system that has all but seized up and a deficit-ridden government that has little ability to raise new revenues or borrow money to continue its operations.
In an early sign that the outcome could provide at least a temporary lift to global financial markets, the euro gained in value against the dollar on Sunday.
“It looks like we’ve avoided the worst-case scenario,’’ said Darren Williams, a European economist for Alliance Bernstein in London. “I think that’s important because we could have gone to a very bad place very quickly.’’
While most financial markets are closed during the weekend, foreign currency trading is always open. Market watchers cautioned about drawing broad conclusions from the trading because of the light volume. But the euro’s tick upward was consistent with the relief expressed by strategists and investors watching the election results.
For a fuller picture of how markets will respond to the elections, strategists carefully watched the Asian stock exchanges as they opened on Sunday night.
Previous rallies in response to developments in Europe have been short-lived. In a similar situation a few weeks back, markets initially responded positively to a bailout plan for Spanish banks that was announced over the weekend. That optimism, though, quickly gave out once US stock markets opened Monday.
Williams said attention will now turn to meetings of international political leaders, where the terms of Greece’s bailout plan could be revised.
On Monday, leaders of the G-20 group of developed and emerging economies will gather in Mexico, where they are expected to debate ways to keep the Greek crisis and the weakness of the bigger economies of Spain and Italy from undermining the euro and dragging the global economy into a new recession.
Central bankers from Tokyo to Washington have pledged to intervene in financial markets if necessary, but the Greek drama could keep investors on edge for weeks.
In Greece, Syriza had billed itself as a kind of “Greek Spring,’’ capturing the momentum of those hungry for change at almost any cost from a political system widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. It also had support from voters who feel betrayed by the Socialists, whose PASOK Party was in power in 2010 when Greece signed the first of its two loan deals with foreign creditors.
For its part, New Democracy has been tapping into a different kind of fear - of the unknown, of illegal immigration, of an exit from the eurozone hastened by a Syriza victory.
New Democracy’s main campaign advertisement shows an elementary school teacher telling his students which countries use the euro. When one asks, “And what about Greece?’’ the teacher stares back in stony silence. “Why, teacher, why?’’ the student asks.
Under the Greek law, the winning party - New Democracy - gets the first chance to form a new coalition in Parliament. If it fails, the next-highest party gets to try.
However, the head of the PASOK party proposed that a unity government be formed of four top parties, including Syriza despite its antibailout views, the AP reported.
PASOK’s Evangelos Venizelos, who spent months negotiating bailouts as Greece’s finance minister, suggested dumping the usual procedure of each party seeking coalition partners. He said a government must be formed quickly and suggested one between New Democracy, Syriza, PASOK, and the small Democratic Left.
“There is not one day to lose. There is no room for party games. If we want Greece to really remain in the euro and get out of the crisis to the benefit of every Greek government, it must have a government tomorrow,’’ Venizelos said after results were announced.
Germany’s finance minister welcomed the New Democracy victory as a mandate to move ahead with far-reaching reforms. Germany’s foreign minister said it was important for Greece to stick to its agreements with creditors, but held out the prospect that Athens might be given more time to comply with them.
Germany, which is Europe’s biggest economy, has been a major contributor to Greece’s two multibillion-euro rescue packages and has been the main advocate of tough austerity and reform measures in exchange.