With about 95% of the vote counted, conservative New Democracy and Socialist PASOK, who have dominated Greece for decades and are the only two major parties supporting the EU/IMF bailout program that is keeping Greece afloat, won less than 33% of ballots and only 150 out of 300 parliament seats. According to the Greek system the party obtaining most votes obtains a 50-seat bonus.
New Democracy polled just over 19% and PASOK a humiliating 13.4%, while the left-wing Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza (anti-austerity), came second with 16.6%.
In the 2009 election, PASOK won a landslide victory with 44% and Syriza had just 5%.
The fourth-biggest party was set to be the Independent Greeks with 10-12%, a new right-wing party set up by New Democracy dissident Panos Kammenos, followed by the communist KKE with 7.5-9.5%.
Neo-fascists to enter Parliament
In another indication of the extent of public anger, the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party was poised to take nearly 7% of the vote. This would allow such a party to enter parliament, with potentially 21 MPs, a first such presence since the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974.
The Democratic Left, a Europhile new leftist party, received 4.5-6.5%. Two other parties, Ecologist Greens and the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS), appear to have passed the 3% barrier necessary to gain seats. In total nine parties were set to enter parliament compared with just five after the last election.
Under the constitution, Greek President Karolos Papoulias will give the biggest party three days to form a government. If it fails, the next largest group gets a chance and so on down the line. If they all fail, new polls would be called about three weeks later.
Any coalition is expected to be short-lived, plunging Greece into fresh political uncertainty and threatening to revive Europe's debt crisis.
As results trickled in, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras called for a pro-European national unity government that would keep Greece in the eurozone. PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos also called for a unity government, saying his party had paid the price for handling the sovereign debt crisis.
The small parties that gained in the election are all against the bailout, but they are too divided to form an alternative coalition.
Samaras is expected to be invited to try to form a government today (7 May).
Cuts for EU/IMF aid
Greece faces an acid test as soon as next month when it must give parliamentary approval for over €11 billion in extra spending cuts for 2013 and 2014 in exchange for more EU/IMF aid.
That looks like a tough task even if a new government can be formed in time, given the success of anti-bailout parties. Several analysts said the unprecedented fragmentation of the vote could mean weeks of instability and force another election.
International lenders and investors fear success for the small anti-bailout parties could lead to Greece reneging on the harsh terms of the programme, risking a hard sovereign default and dragging the eurozone back into the worst crisis since its creation.
Eurozone paymaster Germany has warned there would be "consequences" to an anti-bailout vote and the EU and IMF insist whoever wins the election must stick to austerity if they want to receive the aid that keeps Greece afloat.
But many voters bitterly dismissed such threats.
"I don't think that voting for a small party will make us go bankrupt. We already are," said 53-year-old Panagiotis, a craftsman, after voting for the conservative Independent Greeks.