ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Three parties were wrestling for the top spot in Greece's critical parliamentary elections Sunday, with no definitive front-runner and none gaining enough votes to form a government, an exit poll commissioned by Greek media showed.
The conservative New Democracy party appeared to barely lead the others, but all the results fell within the margin of error.
The results of the election could determine the course the country takes after years of austerity measures that have angered voters but which were critical in convincing international creditors to extend Greece loans to keep its debt-saddled economy afloat.
Whatever the official results show, the outcome will be a blow to both New Democracy and the formerly majority socialist PASOK party, which have dominated Greek politics for nearly four decades but are paying the price of the country's protracted and deep financial crisis.
According to the poll, commissioned by four major television stations and carried out by three polling agencies, New Democracy was projected to win between 17 percent and 20 percent of the vote, PASOK between 14 percent and 17 percent, and the left-wing Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza, between 15.5 percent and 18.5 percent.
The extreme right-wing Golden Dawn was predicted to win between 6 and 8 percent, well above the 3 percent needed to enter parliament.
Official results were expected later Sunday night.
Voters angered by two years of austerity measures in return for the multibillion dollar bailouts have deserted the main parties in droves, turning instead to a series of smaller parties.
If none win enough votes to form a government, whichever party wins the most votes will have to seek a coalition with rivals. The first party will have three days in which to conduct coalition negotiations. If it fails, the mandate will go to the second party for a further three days, and then on to the third party.
If no coalition emerges, then the country will have to go to another election — a prospect which has alarmed Greece's international creditors.
Greece must take yet more austerity measures next month to ensure it meets fiscal targets laid out in its international bailout and to ensure the rescue loan funds keep flowing.
"The truth is here — the reality of this result is that at the moment this produces no government," said Theodoros Pangalos, outgoing deputy prime minister and senior PASOK official. "It is not a question at the moment of who gets a little more or a little less."
New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras had insisted before the election that he would not form a coalition with his socialist rivals, saying such a prospect would require too much haggling to be effective.
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