ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's youngest political leader Alexis Tsipras was the big beneficiary of Sunday's national election as austerity-fatigued voters catapulted his Left Coalition party towards second place.
Tsipras, 37, benefited from a stinging electoral rejection of conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK, the two parties that dominated Greek politics since the fall of the junta in 1974.
Opinion polls indicated that his party had a good chance of coming third in the race but overtaking PASOK delivered the political earthquake Tsipras was hoping for.
However, his goal of a united left front to halt austerity policies under a bailout still looks out of reach.
With almost 37 percent of the vote counted, the Left Coalition had 15.8 percent, on course to follow New Democracy with 20.3. PASOK trailed on 14 percent.
Riding a wave of discontent, Tsipras had called the bailout or bust ultimatum thrown down by mainstream parties a scare tactic to force people to accept painful cuts in pay and pensions.
"With their vote, Greek people gave their mandate for a new day in our country, without the cruel bailout measures. They want solidarity and justice," he said on Sunday. "The parties which signed the bailout without the Greek people's consent are now a minority."
Tsipras's appeal to the KKE communists, the Democratic Left and others to team up to vote out policies driving Greeks into poverty had no takers. He had gone as far as to offer the office of prime minister to the head of the KKE.
Sunday's outcome may weaken the resistance of the Democratic Left as political leaders contemplate the day after and the possibility of forming a unity government.
A cool, mild mannered politician who shuns neck ties and likes to get around on his motorcycle, Tsipras takes the gloves off in parliament and has been a fiery orator, railing against austerity.
Often blamed by the socialists for inciting violent protests, he had promised to freeze payments to creditors and renegotiate measures included in Greece's latest 130 billion euro rescue package.
Born four days after the fall of Greece's military dictatorship in July 1974, Tsipras became leader of the Left Coalition in 2008 and was elected to parliament in 2009. He first emerged on the political scene in 2006 when he scored third place in the Athens mayoral race.
People who know him well say he is a perfectionist.
Reporting by George Georgiopoulos, editing by Mike Peacock