Greece's two main parties suffered big losses in elections Sunday, exit polls showed, rocking the eurozone state's austerity plans after a strong showing by protest groups including the neo-Nazis.
Anti-austerity parties could have won up to 58 percent of the vote between them, the exit polls showed.
The conservative New Democracy led by Antonis Samaras was the largest party with 17-20 percent of the vote, insufficient to give it an absolute majority and down from 33.5 percent at the last election in 2009, the exit polls showed.
Socialist Pasok saw its score slump to 14-17 percent from 43.9 percent. The party even looked set to be leapfrogged into second place by the leftist Syriza, which scored 15.5-18.5 percent, up from 4.6 percent three years ago.
"The ruling parties have been struck by an earthquake. It has crushed Pasok and sent a strong tremor through New Democracy," shadow foreign minister Panos Panagiotopoulos said on television channel Mega.
Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn was also set to enter parliament for the first time since the end of the military junta in 1974, with six to eight percent, making it the sixth-biggest party in the 300-seat chamber with some 25 lawmakers, it said.
"A new nationalist movement dawns," Golden Dawn said on its website. "Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have dynamically joined the national cause for a great, free Greece."
The fourth-biggest party was set to be Indepenent Greeks with 10-12 percent, a new right-wing party set up by New Democracy dissident Panos Kammenos, followed by the communist KKE on 7.5-9.5 percent.
The Democratic Left, a Europhile new leftist party, notched up 4.5-6.5 percent. In total nine parties were set to enter parliament compared with just five after the last election.
Both Pasok and ND have said they want the "troika" of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank to cut Greece more slack in their two bailout deals worth worth 240 billion euros ($314.0 billion).
But with voters angry at the austerity cuts demanded in response, many of the smaller parties, including possible kingmaker Syriza, want to tear up the agreements.
The communist KKE party want to leave the eurozone and the neo-Nazis say they want to stop servicing Greece's debts, an aim shared by Kammenos who wants to turn to Russia to prop up the country.
The result therefore will make it tough for Samaras, once he is officially tasked to do so by the president, to form a government able to keep its austerity promises and implement more cuts demanded by the country's creditors.
His other options include a repeat of the current uneasy Pasok-ND alliance or fresh elections. The final results are not expected much before before 2000 GMT, and experts have warned they could differ considerably from the exit polls.
"After two years of barbarism, democracy is coming home," Syriza head Alexis Tsipras said earlier on Sunday. "The people will send a loud and clear message to all of Europe."
Greece's creditors, not least paymaster-in-chief Germany, the main proponent of austerity before growth -- despite growing criticism across Europe -- have little appetite to loosen the bailout terms, let alone consider a third rescue.
With Athens having committed to finding in June another 11.5 billion euros in savings through 2014, any ambition to renegotiate terms "suggests a degree of liberty they do not have," Swiss bank UBS said in a research note.
In ominous comments widely quoted by Greek newspapers on Saturday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that if Greece's new government deviated from its commitments, the country would "bear the consequences."
"Membership of the European Union is voluntary," he said in Cologne.
As a result, it is Greece's vote rather than France's presidential election, also decided on Sunday, which "weighs heavier" on investors' minds, said Valerie Plagnol, Credit Suisse director of research.
Holger Schmieding, economist at Germany's Berenberg Bank, said that with a "high" chance that no stable government willing to implement more reforms can be formed, there was a 40-percent risk of a Greek eurozone exit this year.
With Portugal and Ireland also getting aid and Italy and Spain on shaky ground too, last year there were worries of some sort of break-up of the eurozone. These fears have subsided in recent months but have not completely disappeared.
Greece has already written off a third of its debts and is in its fifth year of recession. One in five workers is unemployed, its banks are in a precarious position and pensions and salaries have been slashed by up to 40 percent.
Source: AFP Global Edition