A clear majority of Greeks voted for parties who campaigned against the European Union bailout deal which has seen the country avoid an outright default at enormous cost to its economy and standard of living. The conservatives and socialists who have swapped power for four decades were left reeling as they polled less than 34 per cent between them, according to early results.
Syriza, a leftist party that has vowed to renegotiate the memorandum on which the international bailout was agreed, came second with roughly 16 per cent, some three points behind conservative New Democracy and two points ahead of socialist Pasok. Those percentages may change in the final count. As the leading party New Democracy will have the first chance to form a coalition starting today despite its poorer than expected showing.
Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, which made the biggest gains, said that Greeks had voted for a "peaceful revolution" and against the "barbarous memorandum."
On an unseasonally hot day Greeks turned on the parties held most responsible for an economic crisis that has seen a deep recession lead to record unemployment and social breakdown. Communists, nationalists and fascists all made gains at the expense of the leaders who have been working with EU leaders during the crisis.
Lina Kyriakidou, a Phd student working as a waitress in central Athens, said that people had sent a message to Brussels and their own political elite: "They keep saying that if we don't have New Democracy or Pasok we will have chaos," said the 35-year-old. "We already have chaos."
The results in Greece will reverberate through the rest of the eurozone where there is a growing conflict over the balance of austerity versus growth measures as the EU attempts to address a sovereign debt crisis without sinking into a wider recession.
Two years after international markets lost confidence in Greece's ability to service its debts, the country was left with little choice but to agree a memorandum with the troika of the EU, InternationalMonetary Fund and the European Central Bank which stipulated structural reforms in return for loans of more than €100bn.
That memorandum has become the centrepiece of politics in Greece where the economic collapse now has put a quarter of the population out of work after four years of recession. With Greece still unable to borrow from the markets, a second bailout had to be agreed last year along with a restructuring of its debts that saw creditors take a "haircut" in return for reassurances over future reforms and payments.
The two traditional parties, who have alternated in power for the last 40 years, have haemorrhaged support as they have been pushed by the troika to implement the reforms outlined in the bailout package.
"It's clear from today's vote that Greeks don't want the memorandum," said former socialist foreign minister Thodoris Pangalos, a veteran of Greece's socialists Pasok. "The question is what do Greeks want?"
The answer to that question may well frighten much of the rest of Europe. Among the newcomers to the 300-seat parliament is Golden Dawn, a neo-nazi movement that has been involved in violent attacks on ethnic minorities and campaigned for all foreigners to be deported. The party, which enjoys strong support within Greece's often-criticised police and army, has called for immigrants to be put in work camps in an interview with The Independent.
There also appeared to be strong support for the new Independent Greeks party, a far-right nationalist group calling for Greece to reject the EU's bailout terms and look to fellow Orthodox Christians in Russia for support.
Greece has been gripped by deep anxiety over its own future. While most polls still show a majority of Greeks wish to remain in the euro, the same surveys have consistently shown a majority for parties opposed to the current deal.
"Greece is facing an identity crisis and the outcome is totally uncertain," said commentator Nikos Konstandaras.