(CBS/AP) ATHENS, Greece - Europe looked on with wary relief Monday as Greek conservative leader Antonis Samaras received a mandate to launch coalition talks after coming first in national elections that follow weeks of uncertainty over the debt-crippled country's future in the continent's joint currency.
The campaign was watched closely by global leaders and markets, while central banks stood ready to intervene in case of financial turmoil — as Sunday's election was seen as a vote on whether Greece should stay among the 17 nations that use the euro.
A Greek exit would have potentially catastrophic consequences for other ailing European nations; the fallout would hit the United States and the entire global economy.
Europe's financial markets are giving up early gains after a solid day for the Asian markets. It is a sign that investors need time to rebuild confidence after Sunday's critical election in Greece.
For many, this election was seen as a referendum on Greece's future in the European Monetary Union - a choice between the anti-austerity Syriza party, who promised to rip up the bail-out plan, and the central-right New Democracy party, who vowed to keep Greece in Europe at all costs.
"Today the Greek people expressed their will to stay anchored with the euro, remain an integral part of the eurozone, honor the country's commitments, and foster growth," New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said.
After Samaras declared victory last night, newspaper headlines described the results as a "breath of relief."
On Monday the head of Greece's socialist PASOK party said the country needs to form a government fast, and that negotiations for a coalition must be completed by the end of Tuesday.
Evangelos Venizelos, a former finance minister, said that the "broadest possible" consensus must be found between the parties that won parliamentary seats in Sunday's election.
Both the New Democracy party and PASOK (which came in third) have said they will stick to Greece's international bailout commitments, although they want to renegotiate some of the harsh austerity terms taken in return for the international rescue loans.
CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reports the mood in the nation is indeed one of relief rather than jubilation. For many people, New Democracy was simply the "least worst option."
"It's for the good for the country, for the Greek people, for the civility of the country and the civility of Europe," one woman told CBS News.
It will not be an easy road. After five consecutive years of recession, almost one-quarter of Greeks are unemployed, and the specter of renewed street riots hangs over the country.
And the next government will face an emboldened opposition from Syriza, led by charismatic 37-year-old Alexis Tsipras, despite his party's loss vowed last night that the people would keep up the fight against austerity.
Now the real trouble begins. New Democracy needs to form a coalition government, which is something that they were unable to do after the last election. But with Greece's money running out quickly, there is a sense that this needs to get done, and it needs to get done now.
Ward also says that there is a sense of impatience among Greeks, having given Sunday's election victors a "limited mandate."
"The people of Greece have had enough, they can't take any more of this austerity and they need to start seeing changes soon," Ward told "CBS This Morning."
Asian stock markets climbed early Monday on the news of the conservative New Democracy party's strong finish, as did those in Greece with Athens stocks gaining 5.4 percent in early midday trading.
Sunday's vote "will probably ease fears of an imminent Greek euro exit," said Martin Koehring of the Economist Intelligence Unit. "But the key question is how quickly can a government be formed?"
With 129 of Parliament's 300 seats, New Democracy lacks enough legislators to govern alone, and must seek allies among the pro-bailout Socialists, who came third.
But the deal that evaded Samaras after first elections on May 6 looks more attainable this time. With the Socialists' backing he would control 162 seats, and could seek a further boost from the small Democratic Left party. While opposing the country's harsh austerity program, that party has said it will do what is needed to help form a strong government.