ATHENS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Greek opposition leader Alexis Tsipras hailed the government's defeat in the first round of a presidential vote on Wednesday, saying the result showed a strategy of "fear-mongering" had not worked.
With two more rounds of voting to come, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's failure in the first round was not a surprise. But the final count of 160 lawmakers in his favour was at the lower end of estimates on the number of votes he was likely to garner ahead of a decisive vote on Dec. 29.
"The fear-mongering of recent days fell into a void. The strategy of fear collapsed," Tsipras, leader of the radical left Syriza party, told reporters. "Tomorrow will be a new, more optimistic day. Democracy cannot be blackmailed."
Failure to elect a president triggers early elections, which polls show Syriza would be likely to win. The party, which promises to tear up Greece's EU/IMF bailout, has long demanded snap polls.
The Greek government spokeswoman, Sofia Voultepsi, however, told Reuters that the first round result was "expected" and that lawmakers were free to decide until the third vote. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Renee Maltezou, editing by Deepa Babington)