Greece's anti-austerity Syriza party and its leader Alexis Tsipras appear headed to a decisive national election victory, in a vote lodged against repeated European demands for fiscal restraint in Athens.
Early vote counting Sunday night showed Syriza with about 35 percent of the vote, outdistancing the 29 percent recorded by the conservative New Democracy party led by incumbent Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Official projections say the final margin could be wider.
If the result is confirmed by the final count, the 40-year-old Tsipras could become Greece's youngest premier in 150 years.
It also is likely to lead to a confrontation with the country's international lenders over their continuing call for Greek austerity in exchange for release of more bailout money to help the debt-ridden nation.
But it was unclear whether Syriza would win a decisive enough vote to control a minimum 151 of parliament's 300 seats to be able to govern on its own, or whether it will be faced with forming a coalition government.
Tsipras has vowed to renegotiate the country's bailout loans, which totaled nearly $300 billion when the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund approved them in recent years. Tsipras also pledged to reverse many of the austerity demands of the lenders, including pension and wage cutbacks.
The creditors have insisted that Greece live up to the austerity pledges it made in winning approval for the bailouts.
'No' to austerity
After voting in Athens, Tsipras said the future of Greece does not lie with more austerity demands from its lenders.
"The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity, it is the future of democracy, solidarity and cooperation," said Tsipras.
Aside from renegotiating the bailouts, Tsipras said he wants creditors to write off some of the country’s heavy debt. Samaras warned that Greece could be forced out of the 19-nation euro currency bloc if Syriza assumes control of the Greek government.
Syriza attracted many voters infuriated by the deterioration in their standard of living and ever-increasing tax bills.
The prospect of a Syriza-led government has made international creditors nervous and has affected financial markets.
The IMF says it will not release another $8 billion in bailout money for Athens until a new government is in place.