The ultra nationalist far right party Golden Dawn supporters celebrated on Sunday after exit polls showed them winning between 5 to 7 per cent of the vote, enough for them to gain representation in parliament for the first time in Greek history.
Golden Dawn Leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos shouted “The Europe of the nations returns, Greece is only the beginning” as he walked towards party headquaters and pledged to deal with illegal immigrants first.
Supporters clapped and chanted party slogan “Greece belongs to Greeks”.
Golden Dawn, an extreme right nationalist party with patriotic symbolism and an anti-immigrant stance, has tapped into nationalist sentiment rising in the country after the strict European Union/IMF-imposed bailout terms helped plunge Greece into economic turmoil.
The party’s gain in popularity is seen as an indication of the extent of public anger, as polls showed it taking an unprecedented 6-8 per cent of the vote.
Under the country’s proportional representation system this would allow an extreme right party to enter parliament for the first time since the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974, with around 20 or so seats out of 300.
“The resistance of Golden Dawn against the bailout dictators will continue. Inside and outside the Greek parliament. We will continue the battle for Greece. Free from the international speculators. For a proud and independent Greece. For Greece without the bailout slavery and the loss of our national sovereignty,” said Michaloliakos at a news conference after the first exit polls were made public.
The party’s ‘political career’ kicked off in 2010 when its leader Michaloliakos was elected to Athens city council, where he made a Hitler style salute that caused a furore.
The party has claimed that Nazi salutes used by some of its members do not define the group and rejects the Nazi tag, calling itself nationalist, and whose emblem of an ancient Greek decorative border called a meander, which resembles a swastika, symbolizes bravery and endless struggle.
If confirmed, the election results could plunge Greece into new political turmoil, re-igniting a euro zone debt crisis first lit by Athens in 2009 and starting it down a path that could take it out of the euro.
The two pro-bailout parties, the New Democracy party and Socialist rival PASOK, won jointly only 149 out of 300 seats, creating a hung parliament and failing to win a majority that would have allowed them to form a coalition, thus putting at risk the policies that have shielded Athens from bankruptcy and a euro exit.
After exit polls, New Democracy led with around 19 per cent of the vote. PASOK was in third place, trailing the anti-bailout Left Coalition party.
After gaining the largest share of votes, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras is expected to get the first shot at forming a government. But with PASOK beaten to third place, the two must woo one of the five parties opposed to Greece’s latest bailout package if they are to renew their partnership.