Greeks vote once more in early elections

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Greeks Resignedly Prepare for Sunday's General Election in Glum Mood

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greeks were voting Sunday in their third national polls this year, called on to choose who they trust to steer the country into its new international bailout.

Former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing Syriza party, which made pledges to implement austerity measures in return for billions of euros in rescue loans, was marginally ahead of the rival center-right New Democracy in opinion polls leading up to the vote.

But the surveys, which showed many of the 9.9 million voters were undecided until two days before the vote or might abstain altogether, indicated the winner would not have enough votes to form a government alone.

Early turnout appeared low Sunday -- a warm summer day that could tempt vote-weary Greeks to opt for the beach instead of casting yet another ballot.

Read more special coverage on the Greek elections: What is really at stake for voters?

Tsipras, 41, triggered the election by resigning barely seven months into his four-year term, after facing a rebellion within Syriza over his policy U-turn in accepting the spending cuts and tax hikes stipulated by the bailout. Tsipras had won January elections on pledges of abolishing such measures, tied to Greece's first two bailouts.

He has argued he had no choice but to accept the demands of European creditors for more tax hikes and spending cuts in return for Greece's third rescue, a three-year package worth 86 billion euros ($97 billion). He had vowed to repeal the measures imposed in return for the country's first two bailouts — and despite winning a referendum he hastily called July 5 urging Greeks to reject creditor reform proposals.

But without the third bailout, Greece -- which has relied on international rescue loans since 2010 -- faced bankruptcy and a potentially disastrous exit from Europe's joint currency.

See photos of Greece leading up to the elections:

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Greeks vote once more in early elections
Supporters of Syriza left-wing party hold a banner reads in Italian "The other Europe with Tsipras" during a pre-election speech of former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Syntagma square in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Syriza left-wing party leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves to his supporters before a pre-election speech in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of Syriza left-wing party gather as party's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives for his pre-election speech at Syntagma square in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Supporters of Syriza left-wing party stand under a photograph of party's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras before a pre-election rally at Syntagma square in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Supporters of Syriza left-wing party gather for the pre-election speech by party's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Syntagma square in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Supporters of Syriza left-wing party gather for the pre-election speech by party's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Syntagma square in Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
A municipal worker sets up a voting booth among other election materials at a school's classroom that will be a polling station for the Sept. 20 elections, in central Athens Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A municipal worker sets up a ballot box among other election materials at a school's classroom that will be a polling station for the Sept. 20 elections, in central Athens Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. The box reads in Greek: "Ballot box." It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis waves to supporters following his speech at a pre-election rally at Omonia square in central Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy Meimarakis. The sign on the podium reads in Greek: 'Greece Forward' and the one on the stage background reads: 'Forward'. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A municipal worker carries a ballot box as he sets up election materials at a school's classroom, in central Athens, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, that will be a polling station for the Sept. 20, elections. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis acknowledges supporters following his speech at a pre-election rally at Omonia square in central Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis delivers a speech during a pre-election rally at Omonia square in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. The sign on the podium reads ''Greece Forward.'' (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis wave Greek flags during his pre-election speech at Omonia square in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
An elderly supporter of New Democracy party holds a Greek flag before the pre-election speech by party's leader Evangelos Meimarakis at Omonia square in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of conservative New Democracy party shout slogans before the pre-election speech by party's leader Evangelos Meimarakis at Omonia square in Athens, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of conservative New Democracy party shout slogans before the pre-election speech by party's leader Evangelos Meimarakis at Omonia square in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A boy looks the crowd before the pre-election speech of New Democracy party leader Evangelos Meimarakis at Omonia square in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. Opinion polls indicate a race too close to call, with Syriza's leader and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggling to maintain the narrowest of leads over his main opponent, center-right New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Municipal workers load voting booths onto a truck at a depot in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, to be sent to polling stations for Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 elections. Workers loaded 37 trucks with sacks of election materials, ballot boxes and voting booths. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A municipal worker walks past voting booths to be loaded onto trucks at a depot in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, to be sent to polling stations for Sunday, Sept. 20 elections. Workers loaded 37 trucks with sacks of election materials, ballot boxes and voting booths. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Municipal workers wheel boxes containing election ballot boxes at a depot in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, to be sent to polling stations for Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015 elections. The boxes read in Greek: 'Ballot box'. Workers loaded 37 trucks with sacks of election materials, ballot boxes and voting booths. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A supporter of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party waves a Greek flag during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyâs leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party chant slogans during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyâs leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party delivers his speech during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyís leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party wave Greek flags during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyâs leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A supporter of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party waves a Greek flag during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyâs leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Nikos Michaloliakos, the leader of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn political party salutes his supporters prior to his speech during a pre-election rally, in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Golden Dawn, founded as a neo-Nazi party three decades ago, is on course for third place in Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. The stridently anti-austerity and anti-immigrant party could attract voters angry with the prospect of continued austerity under the third bailout, despite the partyâs leadership and dozens of its members being on trial for a slew of offences. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of Greece's Communist Party watch the party's leader Dimitris Koutsoumpas, delivering his speech, during a pre-election rally in central Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Greece's goes to snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of Greece's Communist Party (KKE) wave flags during a pre-election rally in central Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015. Greece's goes to snap general election on Sept. 20, 2015. It is the third time this year Greeks will be voting, with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless, and capital controls limiting cash access to savings to 420 euros ($470) per week. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A supporter of the newly-formed left-wing Popular Unity party chants slogans during a pre-election rally, in central Athens, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. The party broke away from the governing Syriza party ahead of the Sept. 20 general election, hurting its re-election effort. Tsipras called a snap election after reaching an agreement with eurozone countries for a third bailout, and has clung to a slim lead in opinion polls despite a sharp drop in his approval ratings. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Veteran leftist politician and candidate with the newly-formed left-wing Popular Unity party Manolis Glezos acknowledges supporters during a pre-election rally, in central Athens, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. The party broke away from the governing Syriza party ahead of the Sept. 20 general election, hurting its re-election effort. On May 30, 1941, Glezos and late Apostolos Santas climbed on the Acropolis hill and tore down the swastika, which had been there since April 27, 1941, when the Nazi forces had entered and occupied Athens. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Supporters of the newly-formed left-wing Popular Unity party wave flags and chant slogans during a pre-election rally, in central Athens, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. The party broke away from the governing Syriza party ahead of the Sept. 20 general election, hurting its re-election effort. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Pedestrians pass posters of left-wing parties in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. Alexis Tsipras the leader of left-wing party leader Syriza and former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called a snap election for Sunday, Sept. 20 after reaching an agreement with eurozone countries for a third bailout, and has clung to a slim lead in opinion polls despite a sharp drop in his approval ratings. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
From left, PASOK Socialist party leader Fofi Gennimata, head of the Independent Greeks Panos Kammenos, General secretary of Greece's Communist Party Dimitris Koutsoumpas, leader of Potami party Stavros Theodorakis, Panagiotis Lafazanis leader of the Popular Unity, main opposition conservative New Democracy head Vangelis Meimarakis and the leader of the left-wing Syriza party and former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wait for the start of a live televised debate at the state-run ERT television in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The leaders of all but one of Greece's main political parties hold a live televised debate for the first time in six years on Wednesday night before the country's Sept. 20 early election. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Alexis Tsipras, center, leader of radical left Syriza party, is cheered by supporters during a pre-election rally at Keratsini suburb, in Athens, Greece, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The radical left Syriza party of former prime minister Tsipras is pulling ahead of the conservative main opposition party in the run-up to Greece's snap general election on Sept. 20, according to an opinion poll published Friday. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
The leader of the left-wing Syriza party and former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras laughs as main opposition conservative New Democracy head Vangelis Meimarakis waits for the start of a live televised debate at the state-run ERT television in Athens, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The leaders of all but one of Greece's main political parties hold a live televised debate for the first time in six years on Wednesday night before the country's Sept. 20 early election. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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Tsipras called on Greeks to give the next government a strong mandate that will allow it to govern for a full four-year term and to "continue with the same decisiveness, the same self-denial to fight the battles for the defense of our people's rights, not only in Europe but this time within the country too."

"I am optimistic," Tsipras said after voting in his working class Kypseli neighborhood of Athens. "Tomorrow a new day starts."

The danger of being forced out of the euro -- and possibly even the European Union itself -- was on many voters' minds as they cast their ballots.

"My conditions are that we remain in Europe and nothing else, because under no circumstances can we exit," said retiree Elektra Kadydou as she voted in a central Athens polling center.

The campaign has been lackluster and somewhat muted -- a far cry from the frenetic, high-stakes January campaign, which pitted the anti-bailout Tsipras against centrist parties that argued the deal with other Eurozone countries was the country's best chance for an eventual return to some form of economic normalcy in a country ravaged by recession and with unemployment at around 25 percent.

Watch more coverage below:

Former Greek PM Tsipras Speaks of Victory at Final Election Campaign Rally

Now, the policies for whichever party wins have already been set in the form of the bailout agreement, and the anti-bailout camp has been reduced to the Nazi-inspired extreme right-wing Golden Dawn and the new Popular Unity, formed last month by rebel Syriza lawmakers who split from the party and led by former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis.

The campaign of Tsipras' main rival, New Democracy's 61-year-old Vangelis Meimarakis, has centered on a return to stability. He painted Tsipras as a reckless, inexperienced politician who led the country toward a potential catastrophe and introduced strict banking restrictions in an effort to stem a bank run.

Syriza's campaign has focused on doing away with the staid and often corrupt politics of the past.

"Today the politicians don't speak, the citizens speak. They speak with their vote," Meimarakis said after casting his ballot in a northern Athens suburb. "And I think they want to do away with the grey, the lies, the misery .... And with their vote they want to bring truth and authenticity, so we can have a better tomorrow, a better tomorrow for all Greeks."

The government that emerges will have little time to waste. Creditors are expected to review progress of reforms as part of the bailout next month, while the government will also have to draft the 2016 state budget, overhaul the pension system, raise a series of taxes, including on farmers, carry out privatizations and merge social security funds.

It must also oversee a critical bank recapitalization program, without which depositors with over 100,000 euros ($113,000) in their accounts will be forced to contribute.

Polls have indicated no party is anywhere near the levels needed for an overall parliamentary majority of 151 seats in the 300-member legislature, even with the 50-seat bonus given to the winner, and a three-party coalition would likely be required. That should be achievable with help from two centrist pro-European small parties: the formerly mighty socialist PASOK, and relative newcomer To Potami, or The River.

Speaking after casting his ballot, To Potami leader Stavros Theodorakis urged Greeks not to abstain, and said the prospect of a repeat election must be avoided. That would occur if no parties manage to agree on forming a coalition government.

Golden Dawn, whose leadership is on trial on charges of running a criminal organization, has been consistently polling in third place, but would not be approached by any of the other parties to form a coalition.

Nine parties have a chance of reaching the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. The total number of parties getting in will affect seat distribution -- the more parties, the fewer seats for the winner, increasing the need for one or more coalition partners.

Polls close at 7 p.m. (1600 GMT) and final results are expected by early Monday.

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