Greeks began voting at precisely 7am local time in their most critical – and uncertain – election in decades, with voters set to punish the two main parties that are being held responsible for the country’s dire economic straits.
Thirty-two parties vie for the votes of nearly 10 million registered voters, many of whom, according to recent polls, were undecided on the eve of the election.
Abstention, once projected to reach historic highs but seen rising in recent opinion surveys, will be crucial to the final outcome.
In the last national election, in October 2009, just over 70% of the registered voters went to the polls.
Such is the disillusionment with the socialist Pasok party and conservative New Democracy, which have been alternating in power for the last 38 years, that neither is expected to garner enough votes to form a government.
Days of wrangling over forming a coalition will likely ensue, with the prospect - alarming to Greece’s lenders and much of the country’s population – of another round of elections if they fail.
Public anger has been so high that politicians have been forced to maintain low-profile campaigns for fear of physical attacks on the streets in a country battered by business closures and hundreds of thousands of job losses.
The last opinion polls published before a two-week blackout ahead of the election showed Pasok and New Democracy haemorrhaging support since the last election in 2009.
Their support has reached historic lows, plunging to percentages last seen in the mid-1970s for the socialists and to historic lows for New Democracy, whose previous low of 33.47% was reached in the crushing defeat of 2009.