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Alexis Tsipras storms into office with an emphatic election victory

Greek leftist Alexis Tsipras took charge of the office again after winning a second general election in less than nine months, claiming a new mandate to steer Greece’s battered economy to recovery. The leader of left-wing Syriza party waved to his supporters after securing a dramatic victory over his conservative rival, despite a turbulent first term in office and a constant revolt by party radicals after he accepted the eurozone-led austerity programme in exchange for Greece’s third international bailout. The vote ensured the leftist leader would remain Greece’s dominant political figure. The odds seem to have played in favor of Tsipras, who resigned as prime minister last month and triggered an early election, barely seven months into his four-year term, only to be given another chance to lead a country still hindered in economic ruin.

Following a campaign that for weeks looked too close to call, Syriza won 35.5% of the vote against 28.1% of the centre-right New Democracy party, giving the party 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament. Syriza’s margin of victory over its nearest rival was almost exactly the same as it was the last time the country voted. Syriza was first elected in January on an anti-austerity mandate, but was forced to accept tough conditions for Greece’s third international bailout deal. Sunday’s snap election was called after Mr. Tsipras lost his majority in August. Party supporters cheered and danced in the streets of downtown Athens on Sunday night after the results became clear.

In a victory speech to cheering crowds in a central Athens square, Tsipras pledged stability after the country’s fifth election in six years, saying the vote had given him a “crystal clear mandate” and that he would govern for the full four-year term – something few Greek governments have managed, particularly since the country became dependant on international bailouts five years ago. The country has seen six governments and four parliamentary elections since 2009.

“I feel vindicated because the Greek people have a clear mandate to carry on fighting inside and outside our country to uphold the pride of our people,” Mr. Tsipras told supporters.

“Today in Europe, Greece and the Greek people are synonymous with resistance and dignity. This struggle will be continued together,” he said, although he warned, “we have difficulties ahead of us but we also have a solid ground, we know where we can step, we have a prospect. Recoveries of the crisis can’t come magically, but it can come through tough work.”

Critics wondered whether it was worth the shot which left Greece with the same government as before. But Tsipras is now in a stronger position, his decision to accept strong austerity measures in return for bailout fund apparently vindicated by the result. Winning the election could be the easy part, given the scale of the financial crisis in Greece, but one of the challenges facing Mr. Tsipras is to persuade European Union creditors that Greece is doing enough to meet the terms of the latest bailout package worth up to €86bn ($97bn). The package demands a radical overhaul of the country’s ailing economy and far-reaching changes to tax, welfare and pension systems. Creditors will carry out a review in October and there is still some opposition from within Syriza.

The outlines of a new government became clear as Tsipras embraced the leader of the nationalist Independent Greeks party and said they would again team up in a coalition. The foremost task will be to revise the 2015 budget to take into account major pension and income tax reforms. It must also look forward to finalize a procedure to recapitalize Greek banks by December and move fast to remove capital controls imposed earlier this summer to avoid financial system collapse. But considering the current situation at hand, the new government needs to respond to Greece’s central role in Europe’s refugee crisis, feared as the worst refugee crisis in decades, which could intensify as countries further along the land route across the Balkans shut down their frontiers.

In a painful reminder of the crisis, 13 migrants, including six children, died in Turkish waters on Sunday when a boat carrying 46 people en route to Greece collided with a dry cargo vessel and capsized, a Turkish coastguard source said.