Greek voting results imminent

Joint Greek exit poll shows New Democracy getting 27.5-30.5 percent and leftist SYRIZA at 27-30 percent.

Greek ballot papers get counted on 17 June 2012. Picture: AFP

ATHENS - Greece's conservative New Democracy party was barely ahead of radical leftist SYRIZA party in an election that could decide whether the country stays in the euro zone, a joint exit poll by five pollsters showed on Sunday.

The poll showed New Democracy taking between 27.5 percent to 30.5 percent of the vote, while SYRIZA was just behind with 27-30 percent. They were followed by the PASOK Socialists taking 10-12 percent of the vote.

SYRIZA has vowed to tear up the terms of an EU/IMF bailout package keeping Greece from bankruptcy, potentially sending the country crashing out of Europe's single currency.

New Democracy broadly backs the bailout.

The country voted on Sunday in an election which could decide whether their heavily indebted country stays in the euro zone or is forced towards the exit, potentially unleashing shocks that could break up Europe's single currency.

Opinion polls are banned in the final two weeks of the campaign but party officials' own estimates on election day showed the radical leftist SYRIZA bloc, which wants to scrap the punishing austerity package demanded by international lenders, neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy party, which broadly supports it.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have said a new government must accept the conditions of a 130-billion-euro ($164-billion) Greek bailout agreed in March or funds will be cut off, driving Athens into bankruptcy.

All the main parties say they will keep Greece in the single currency, but SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras believes he can renegotiate the deal. He is betting that European leaders cannot afford the financial market turmoil that would be unleashed by cutting a member of the euro zone loose.

Five opinion polls published before the ban took effect two weeks ago put New Democracy narrowly ahead. Two other polls had SYRIZA leading and pollsters said the race was too close to call.

But whoever wins power may find it is short-lived and, despite the insistence of EU politicians, some adjustment of the bailout terms may be inevitable if Greece is to get on top of a public debt amounting to 165 percent of gross domestic product.

"It is a scenario I see as likely and if that is the condition presented for Greece to stay and then move on, I would say it is probably something that should be attempted," Angel Gurria, head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, told Reuters in an interview.

Central banks from Tokyo to London are readying arsenals to defend banks and national currencies against any post-election turmoil. The result will dominate a meeting of the Group of 20 world economic powers on Monday and Tuesday in Mexico.

Finance officials in the euro zone have discussed limiting the size of withdrawals from cash dispensers, imposing border checks and introducing euro zone capital controls as a worst-case scenario.

Euro zone officials have hinted they might give a new Greek government some leeway on how it reaches debt targets set by the EU/IMF bailout package, but would not change the targets themselves.

Euro zone paymaster Germany warned Greeks on Saturday the bailout would not be renegotiated.

"That's why it's so important that the Greek elections preferably lead to a result in which those that will form a future government say: 'Yes, we will stick to the agreements'," Chancellor Angela Merkel told a party conference.

A Greek exit from the single currency would heap further pressure on two far larger European economies - Spain has already received up to 100 billion euros to save its struggling banks and Italy has also slipped closer to crisis.