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Leftist Syriza Forms Greek Government with Rightist Partner, Promising to Prevent Political Train Wreck

Syriza and the Independent Greeks disagree on several issues and are unlikely bedfellows, but they are united in their desire to end austerity in Greece.
Image via AP/Petros Giannakouris

The radical left-wing, anti-austerity party Syriza has now formed a coalition government in Greece with the Independent Greeks, a right-wing group who appeared to suggest they would keep their new partnership on track in a video released during the election campaign.

Syriza outperformed expectations, failing to gain an outright majority by just two seats. The coalition now has a working majority of 162 seats, with 149 Syriza representatives and 13 Independent Greeks.

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At 40, Syriza's leader Alexis Tsipras will be the youngest Greek prime minister in 150 years. He also appears to be a House fan. Tsipras's first tweet after his party's win was to Hugh Laurie, in response to the actor expressing his congratulations.

— a.tsipras (@atsipras)January 25, 2015

Once a marginal protest party, Syriza has managed to mobilize a wave of disenfranchised citizens who see their future as contingent on a move away from the austerity measures that have crippled the country. Tsipras has made big promises, both tangible and more elusive. "Democracy will return to Greece," he told assembled reporters as he cast his ballot in Athens.

The new government was finalized less than an hour after talks had began between the two parties. Panos Kommenos, leader of the Independent Greeks party, made the announcement outside Syriza's party headquarters.

Kommenos said: "I want to say, simply, that from this moment, there is a government. The Independent Greeks will give a vote of confidence to the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

"The prime minister will go to the president and… the cabinet make-up will be announced by the prime minister. The aim for all Greeks is to embark on a new day, with full sovereignty."

A wave of discontent is crashing the status quo in Greece. Read more here.

The two parties — one radical left, one right wing — disagree on several issues, including migration, and are unlikely bedfellows. But they are united in their desire to end austerity in Greece.

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Kommenos had previously spoken out strongly and repeatedly against the European bailout and its harsh conditions, saying that Greece was being used as a "laboratory animal" and had fallen victim to an "international conspiracy."

Suggestions that the parties might team up emerged before the results were announced. During the election campaign, the Independent Greeks released a television ad showing Kommenos helping a child named Alexis with keeping his toy train "on track," avoiding a "wreck." This was interpreted as a reference to Syriza's young leader, also called Alexis.

Syriza laid out its economic plans in the "Thessaloniki program," which stated that it wanted to write off the greater part of Greek's debt, and suspend the payment of interests on the remainder. The repayment of the remaining part, it said, would be conditional on economic growth.

Other proposals included free electricity for 300,000 households under the poverty threshold, and free healthcare for those who were uninsured and unemployed.

Responses have started coming in from European leaders and players on what has been termed "a new chapter of European instability."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that this election victory is a "warning sign" of the economic turbulence that is to come.

Young Greeks hope a Syriza victory in Sunday's election will save their lost generation. Read more here.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said: "We stand ready to work with [Syriza], as we've always stood ready to work with the previous Greek government." However, he added that a lot had already been done to take off the debt pressure, and he didn't think that there was a lot of support in the eurozone for writing off debt at nominal value.

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The Greek financial bailout was worth 240 billion euros ($267 billion). Unemployment in Greece is at about 26 percent, and above 50 percent among young people. Public debt stands at 319 billion euros ($358 billion).

The current Greek bailout extension expires at the end of February, meaning that the new government will have to move fast in negotiations with its European partners.

Speaking to VICE News, Open Europe political analyst Vincenzo Scarpetta said that at the moment "there is some posturing going on," but that observers "should not rush to rule out a compromise."

Scarpetta noted that a Greek exit from the eurozone, or "Grexit," was predicted in 2012, but avoided when a deal was settled on.

He added, however: "The negotiations this time will be very different because either Syriza or the eurozone will have to make big concessions."

Furthermore, Scarpetta said that European partners would be terrified of making compromises, given that the impact of these would "reverberate around Europe."

If Podemos enter government in Spain, Scarpetta said, for example, "they would likely ask for similar treatment." Ireland, he speculated, could possibly do the same. "There will certainly be consequences."

"We are looking at some pretty tough negotiations," he concluded. Both Syriza and the Independent Greeks have also previously called on Germany to pay World War II reparations to Greece, which they believe amount to around 162 billion euros.

Speaking to VICE News in December, Syriza MEP Manolis Glezos said: "The payment of the German obligations owed to Greece is a moral need."

In photos: Four years of Greece's great depression. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden in Twitter: @sallyhayd