ATHENS     -   Greek voters started casting their ballots on Sunday in the first parliamentary elections since the country exited the international bailouts last year.

The polling stations nationwide are open between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. local time (0400-1600 GMT). About 9.9 million citizens of 17 years and above are eligible to vote.

Fearing high abstention rates, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made the plea for high participation after casting his ballot in Athens.

“Each voter’s decision will be crucial for the outcome. I would like to call on all citizens to go to the polling stations to exercise their right to vote. They should all be present in this critical decision for our country,” he said in a statement. “I believe that it is a crucial battle, and we are fighting with optimism and confidence so that peoples’ sacrifices and efforts will not go to waste and our country’s course forward will not be obstructed,” he added.