Greek voters have delivered a resounding anti-austerity election verdict, punishing the ruling coalition and leaving the country's political future and the eurozone's stability hanging in the balance.
Greece's two-party coalition, which imposed a harsh austerity programme in return for an international bailout, was routed according to near-complete official figures released early on Monday.
The Socialist PASOK party and the Conservatives of New Democracy (ND) scored just 32.4 per cent between them, plummeting from 77.4 per cent in the 2009 vote, according to interior ministry figures based on 95 per cent of Sunday's vote counted.
While the ND scraped into first place in the election, it was with the party's lowest score so far, taking 19.6 per cent of the vote and giving them 109 seats in the 300-seat parliament.
In second place came the leftist, anti-austerity Syriza party, with 16.6 per cent of the vote and 51 seats, more than tripling its 2009 showing.
The once-mighty PASOK was reduced to third place, its vote more than halved to 13.31 per cent, or 41 seats, the voters' deserting it for having pushed through punishing public spending cuts.
The election also fragmented the political landscape, with voters sending at least seven parties to parliament, two more than previously.
One of the newcomers is the neo-Nazi Hryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn), breaking into parliament for the first time in nearly 40 years. Its 6.9 per cent of the vote should give it 21 deputies, according to the latest ministry figures.
Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Athens, said: "On the face of it, this seems like massive repudiation of Greece's political establishment."
More than 50 per cent of Greeks cast votes for parties opposing the public spending cuts that attached to the bailout.
They include a new nationalist party called Independent Greeks and the staunchly Stalinist Communist party that between them could elect nearly 60 deputies.
Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos called for the formation of a "national unity government" among pro-European parties, saying: "May the God of Greece help us."
PASOK and ND have said they want the "troika" of the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank to allow Greece more flexibility over their two bailout deals worth $314bn.
The election's nominal victor, ND leader Antonis Samaras, said he would piece together a unity government to keep Greece in the euro and seek better terms from the country's EU-IMF creditors on growth.
"We are ready to assume the responsibility of forming a national salvation government with two exclusive goals: to keep the country in the euro and amend the policies of the memorandum," Samaras said late on Sunday.
President Carolos Papoulias is expected to give ND the mandate to form a government later on Monday, 60-year-old Samaras told reporters outside his party's headquarters.
This comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said it was "of utmost importance" that Greece stick to the reform course agreed in exchange for an EU bailout, despite the voter backlash.
"It is of course of utmost importance that the programmes in Greece continue," she said in Berlin.
Al Jazeera's John Psaropolous, reporting from Athens, said Samaras had arranged to meet Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras later on Monday, soon after he received the mandate to form a unity government.
"This is a surpirse because their platforms would appear to be completely incompatible," Psaropolous said. "Syriza has a typical Socialist tact and spend programme. They want to renege on the bailout terms, they do not want to re-negotiate them at all.
"ND will have to have to approach them with some sort of middle ground attempt here and say: would you come into a government that is pro-bailout if we made some concessions," he said.
According to the constitution, after the Conservatives receive the mandate, it would have three days to form a government before the mandate passed to Syriza.
If they fail, Tsipras would get his chance to form a left-wing government to reject the terms of the eurozone country's bailouts.
"The parties that signed the memorandum [with the EU and the IMF] are now a minority," Tsipras, 37, told reporters earlier. "The public verdict has de-legitimised them."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies