ATHENS: Radical leftist Alexis Tsipras met the leaders of Greece’s mainstream parties today to try to form a coalition government, an effort seen as doomed after he demanded they agree to tear up the country’s EU/IMF bailout deal.
An inconclusive election left Athens in political disarray, with no clear path to form a government, a new election likely within weeks and speculation that Greece could be pushed out of Europe’s single currency bloc.
Voters enraged by economic hardship repudiated the two parties which led Greece for decades — conservative New Democracy and Socialist PASOK — the only groups that back the 130 billion-euro bailout which saved Greece from bankruptcy.
The remote chance of Tsipras forming a coalition faded even further when New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras promptly rejected his demand to scrap the bailout, warning such a move could drive the debt-choked country out of the euro.
“Tsipras asked me to put my signature to the destruction of Greece. I will not do this,” Samaras said. “The country cannot afford to play with fire.”
Tsipras’s leftist party placed second on Sunday, while New Democracy and PASOK saw their combined share fall to just 32 percent and PASOK reduced to third place.
Samaras was given the first chance to form a government but failed. Tsipras was given three days to try. He will meet Socialist PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and Samaras.
If, as increasingly seems likely, no politician is able to cobble together a majority in the 300-seat parliament, a new election will have to be held in three to four weeks.
Rivals for decades, New Democracy and PASOK had been ruling jointly in an uneasy coalition that negotiated last year’s bailout, which saw lenders demand ever-deeper spending cuts in a country already suffering five straight years of recession.
Most Greeks say they want to keep the euro currency — widely seen as impossible without the bailout — but they are furious with the two mainstream political parties they blame for the recession, record high unemployment and endemic corruption. Most believe spending cuts demanded by the EU and International Monetary Fund are only making the situation worse by increasing unemployment and preventing economic recovery.
Even with a system that gave first-placed New Democracy an extra 50 seats — designed to make it easier to form stable governments, it and PASOK together fell short of a majority to renew their coalition, with only 149 seats between them.
Theoretically, it could still be possible for Tsipras to form a left-leaning coalition with PASOK, if New Democracy abstained in a confidence vote rather than opposing it.
Such a scenario seems extremely unlikely, but PASOK leader Venizelos left the door slightly open by renewing calls for all the country’s pro-European parties to form a coalition and avoid a second round of elections.
“The Greek people asked for two things: For Greece to stay safely in Europe and the euro and at the same time to seek the best possible change in bailout terms so that citizens and growth can be helped,” Venizelos said.
If Tsipras fails, the president will give Venizelos the last chance to try to form a government. If he should fail, new elections loom.