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Greek Radical Leftists Projected to Win EU Vote by Small Margin

Riot police stand guard as forensic experts in white suits search for evidence on a street behind the headquarters of the co-ruling Socialist PASOK party in Athens, May 25, 2014.
Greece's radical leftist, anti-bailout Syriza party has won the country's EU election but failed to deliver the knockout blow it needed to destabilize Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government, an exit poll showed on Sunday.

The EU ballot marks the first major electoral test for Samaras since he came to power two years ago and analysts had warned defeat by more than five percentage points would jeopardize his fragile coalition which has only a two-seat majority in parliament.

But Syriza only managed a three-point lead - taking 26 to 30 percent of the vote, ahead of Samaras's New Democracy party with 23 to 27 percent of the vote, according to a joint exit poll by Metron Analysis, Alco, MRB, Marc and Opinion.

In a further boost for the government, which backs a deeply unpopular EU/IMF bailout tied to austerity measures, the co-ruling Socialist PASOK party confounded predictions of a meltdown and secured a respectable 7 to 9 percent of the vote.

Government officials ruled out early elections, which analysts had speculated Samaras would be forced to call if Syriza managed to get a bigger share of the vote than the two co-ruling parties combined.

“There is no chance that we won't finish our four-year term,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Greek television. “It's easy for people to cast a protest vote in European elections, which is a lax kind of electoral contest. The political scenario of a government collapse, which Syriza was trying to paint, has not been borne out by the facts.”

Golden Dawn, the far-right party that denies authorities' accusations that it is a neo-Nazi criminal gang, was Greece's third most popular party despite a government-led crackdown that has landed its leader and top lawmakers in jail pending trial.

The party was set to enter European Parliament for the first time with 8 to 10 percent of the vote, according to the poll, faring better than it did in the 2012 national election but not as well as it did in last Sunday's local elections.

In local election runoffs that were held simultaneously, the government-backed incumbent was tied with Syriza's candidate in the race for governor of the wider Athens region, which is home to a third of the population, a joint poll showed.

Exit polls conducted last week were criticized for giving Syriza a bigger share of the vote than it ultimately secured.