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Greek election is pivotal to future of nation, eurozone, global economy

The ancients came here for guidance, but the moderns are all over the map.

A clerk at the gift shop of the sprawling archaeological complex on the edge of town hopes upstart leftist Alexis Tsipras becomes Greece's next prime minister, dismissing fears he will pull Greece from the euro zone.

A worker at the coffee shop is for the right-wing Golden Dawn party.

At the entrance to the Temple of Apollo, where the old Athenian treasury is as empty as the country's modern-day version, workers haven't made up their minds.

"The politicians have just taken our money," said one gate attendant, throwing her hands in the air. "I'll decide tomorrow."

Greeks today will cast their lot in a parliamentary election that could determine the country's future in the eurozone and potentially the future of the eurozone itself.

Now including 17 nations, the European Monetary Union is one of the continent's main modern-day political projects. There is no precedent or procedure for a country leaving, and the predictions about what might occur in the aftermath range from global financial meltdown to a mild bump on the road to recovery.

The two leading candidates, Antonis Samaras and Tsipras, have told voters that they will keep Greece within the euro.

But Tsipras has drawn a hard line regarding the terms of an international bailout needed to keep Greece afloat, raising the risk of a collapse in relations with the country's lenders and possibly an exit from the currency union.

Samaras, head of the center-right New Democracy party, has struck a more moderate tone, saying he will bargain to slow the budget cuts demanded in return for International Monetary Fund and European help but pledging to keep the key parts of the bailout program intact and keep Greece in good standing with its creditors.

Today's election is the latest turning point in a more than two-year drama over Greece's slide into insolvency, an economic low point it has reached after a multiyear recession and a crippling level of government debt.

The country has already produced Europe's first ever sovereign default, gotten private lenders to shoulder more than $100 billion in losses on Greek government bonds, absorbed massive emergency loans from the IMF and other European countries -- and is still far behind in financial stability.

Investors and public officials worldwide worry today's vote may lead to a breaking point between Greece and a world that is, as one investor here put it, "fed up."

The effect of today's vote won't be immediately known. Whoever finishes first will probably have to build a coalition to reach the 151 parliamentary seats needed to form a majority, a process that could take several days -- if it succeeds at all.

If a government is formed, the new prime minister would then promptly open talks with the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank over disbursement of Greece's next round of bailout loans, as well as some $30 billion needed to replenish the country's depleted banking system.

Greece's latest bailout program was finalized only a few weeks ago but is already behind schedule due to the country's political stalemate -- a campaign that occupied much of April, the inconclusive vote last month and the weeks of campaigning since. The country is not only broke at this point but operating without a government, or clarity about its direction.