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A Note from the General Manager about Excursions

Greek Voters Usher Leftist Party Into Office

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

During the recession in the eurozone, none of the 19 nations using the euro suffered quite like Greece. Creditors demanded austerity measures, and those austerity measures, pushed especially hard by Germany, have resulted in a 50 percent unemployment rate among young people and a 25 percent drop in the size of the Greek economy. Yesterday, Greek voters made it clear they've had enough. A left-wing, anti-establishment party known as Syriza was the victor in parliamentary elections. And today, the party's leader was sworn in as prime minister. Reporter Joanna Kakissis joins us from Athens for more. Good morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, this outcome was not unexpected, but it is certainly a huge statement on the part of Greek voters.

KAKISSIS: Yes, it is. And Syriza is all set to govern today, but with strange bedfellows ,as Syriza fell just short of an absolute majority. So the party, which is leftist, has decided to team up with a small, right-wing party, the Independent Greeks, to have enough seats in parliament to form a government. And this may not go over well, that this major win for the European Left will now be majorly compromised.

The Independent Greeks are populists that thrive on conspiracy theories and device of nationalism. Their leader, Panos Kammenos, has been criticized for anti-Semitic comments like saying Greek Jews don't pay taxes. The only thing that these two parties seem to have in common is strong opposition to the bailout deal that has brought on all these austerity measures. And the Independent Greeks have really vilified Europe and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel. So that doesn't really set the stage for a new partnership for a new Europe.

MONTAGNE: And given this huge change, how happy are they now?

KAKISSIS: Well, there's jubilation here from what I saw. There were - thousands were on the streets to celebrate yesterday, and here's what it sounded like.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELEBRATION)

KAKISSIS: I was there as everyone danced and sang revolutionary songs. And they were really, really enjoying themselves, saying they felt hope again for the first time in years. There were also lots of European leftists there, including people from the Spanish anti-authoritarian party Podemos, which is now leading polls there. And there also seems to be a lot of goodwill at the moment towards the next prime minister, and that's Alexis Tsipras, even though he is young and untested. Here he is at his victory speech last night. He's only 40 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "Greece is turning the page," he's telling everyone, and leaving behind what he's calling the austerity of destruction. He's talking about Greece moving forward with hope and self-respect. And that's something that resonated with a lot of voters, like Electra Kanellou. She's an archaeologist. And here she is talking.

ELECTRA KANELLOU: His heart's in the right place. I think he will try to do the best for us, not as the other parties, which are trying to do the best for, you know, the banks and everyone else but the people.

MONTAGNE: Well, there's a voter in Athens, but trying to do the best for the people means following through on some pretty big promises.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, it is a challenging environment because what Greece has to do is pay back billions in bailout loans. It still has to do that, no matter what. But Syriza has also promised to increase spending to help the poor and the middle class that have been really devastated by this crisis.

MONTAGNE: Well, if the EU is wary, what about the markets? How are they reacting?

KAKISSIS: Well, at first glance, not very well. Stock prices fell today and the euro is at an 11-year low. Many people outside Greece are uncomfortable with a government that seems so confrontational with the eurozone and especially the biggest lender, Germany.

MONTAGNE: Joanna Kakissis speaking to us from Athens, Greece. Thank you very much.

KAKISSIS: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.