ATHENS (Reuters) - The leader of Greece’s ultra-right Golden Dawn party savored unexpected success in Sunday’s election by taunting journalists and defiantly appearing on camera alongside a party official who went on the run for assaulting a leftist rival.
Hundreds of cheering supporters thronged the party’s headquarters in Athens and officials threw ballot papers as confetti from windows after the group defied predictions to once again emerge as among the winners of the night.
“Today’s vote proves that the nationalist movement is here to stay,” leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos said in a televised message. “Golden Dawn represents the Greece of the future.”
An official forecast showed the party was set to retain the 7 percent share of the vote it took in last month’s inconclusive election, despite polls showing shrinking support as Greeks watched its members ordering reporters to stand to attention, denying the Holocaust or smiling next to an Auschwitz oven.
“I offer my most heartfelt condolences to all who tried to not only reduce Golden Dawn’s support, but also prevent it from entering parliament: Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve lost. Both you and the interests you represent,” Mihaloliakos said.
“The fight against you goes on, the fight against the misinformation of the Greek people goes on.”
Pollsters said they were shocked to see Golden Dawn consolidate gains after an incident where spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris first hurled water at a leftist rival and then slapped another female rival during a live television debate.
Kasidiaris then went on the run after a warrant was issued for his arrest, surfacing again when that expired.
“They did not manage to ransack our vote, our percentage remained stable at 7 percent,” party leader Mihaloliakos said in a second message to cameras where he was flanked by Kasidiaris, another supporter and two large Greek flags.
“Golden Dawn is a political reality, it is here to stay.”
The incident - replayed incessantly on television - was expected to dent the party’s ratings but instead appeared to give it a boost, underscoring the disgust many Greeks feel towards their political class.
“We couldn’t believe the indident actually boosted their popularity,” a pollster said on condition of anonymity.
The once-obscure party has won support by campaigning on a virulently anti-immigrant and anti-politician platform - pledging to rid Greece of the “stench” of foreigners and seize the assets of corrupt politicians.
It denies it is neo-Nazi, but sports a symbol that resembles the Nazi swastika and members frequently give Nazi-style salutes. Its leader has denied gas chambers existed in Nazi concentration camps, and the party openly flaunts books on Aryan supremacy and Adolf Hitler.
As results from Sunday’s election began trickling in, about 300 supporters gathered to celebrate at the party’s headquarters, prompting police to close off the street. A large Greek flag was hung from the balcony of the party’s offices.
Journalists - who Golden Dawn frequently accuse of mudslinging and misrepresenting it - were turned away and the party issued a statement saying it would not talk to reporters.
“I’d like to thank the hundreds of thousands of Greeks who did not correct their vote, as they were urged to do by paid journalists and propagandists, and stayed on the side of the Golden Dawn,” Mihaliakos said in his message to cameras.
Additional reporting by Harry Papachristou; Writing by Deepa Babington, editing by Mike Peacock