Greek president makes last push to avert elections
ATHENS, May 13 — Greece’s president met party leaders today in a final bid to cobble together a coalition and avert a repeat election, but the veteran politician’s effort looked set to fail because of deep splits over an EU/IMF rescue plan.
Leaders of the three biggest parties, each of whom had failed to form a government in the past week, convened at the presidential mansion, where President Karolos Papoulias has a last opportunity to implore them to form a coalition before he must call a new election, probably in mid-June.
Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who placed first in the election last week but fell far short of a majority, expressed hope a deal could still be reached.
“We have a mandate to cooperate to change policies but at the same time remain in the euro,” he said outside the presidential mansion. “A mandate for a viable government, at least until the European elections (in 2014).”
A week ago voters humiliated the parties that have dominated Greece for generations — Samaras’s New Democracy and the PASOK party of former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, who jointly negotiated a bailout that requires deep cuts in public spending.
Polls since the election show the balance of power tipping even further towards opponents of the bailout, who were divided among several small parties but now appear to be rallying behind Alexis Tsipras, a 37-year-old former Communist student leader.
If the vote is repeated, Tsipras’s SYRIZA party is tipped to place first, winning an automatic extra 50 seats at the expense of Samaras.
If the next government rejects the bailout, EU official say that would mean the end of loans that Athens needs to stave off bankruptcy, and its ejection from the euro single currency.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Greeks reject the bailout but want to keep the euro.
Samaras and Venizelos have offered a broad coalition that would include SYRIZA, and try to renegotiate some bailout terms, but Tsipras rejects that.
“It is obvious that there is an effort to bring about a government that will implement the bailout,” SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis said yesterday. “We are not participating in such a government.”
Another small leftist party could provide enough seats to form a government with New Democracy and PASOK, but has said it will not do so unless the coalition also includes SYRIZA.
Greeks seem resigned to returning to the polls.
“Why would we believe they’ll agree on something? All they care about is being in power and we’re sitting here not even able to pay our electricity bills,” said Maria Kissou, 53, a corner shop owner in Athens. “Let us go to elections again.”
Kissou voted on May 6 for Tsipras.
“He’s young, I like him because at least he’s trying to renegotiate with the Europeans,” Kissou said.
Supporters of the two establishment parties will be hoping that if a new election is held, Greeks will be frightened of the prospect of leaving the euro and return to the fold.
“Country on a dangerous path”, conservative daily Kathimerini warned on its front page.
Papoulias will also meet leaders of parliament’s small parties, which for the first time include the far right Golden Dawn. In one of the unfolding drama’s many sub-plots, Greeks will watch with interest to see how the president, a revered 82-year-old veteran of the World War II anti-Nazi resistance, receives a group whose members give Nazi-style salutes.
The constitution sets no deadline for Papoulias to complete his search for a deal and he has given no indication how long he will spend trying before he calls a new election.
Centre-left daily Ethnos warned on the front page of its Sunday edition that politicians were playing “Russian roulette” with an economy in its fifth straight year of recession.
One in five Greeks — including more than half of the working-aged youth — are unemployed, and the government’s coffers could be empty as soon as June if no fresh cash comes from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
While most Greeks oppose the bailouts, they overwhelmingly back the euro. Some 78.1 per cent want the new government to do whatever it takes to keep their country in the currency, a poll by Kappa Research for To Vima daily showed.
European leaders say Athens can remain in the euro only if it sticks to the pledges to clean up its finances that it made to secure the bailout. Opponents say those harsh terms are making the situation worse by strangling the economy.
Tsipras says EU leaders are bluffing, and will not push Greece out of the euro because of the damage this would cause to the rest of the single currency zone.
But officials in Brussels — who once refused to discuss any country leaving the euro — now talk about a Greek exit as a real, if painful, possibility.
A prospect once seen as devastating for the continent’s financial system is viewed as more manageable since banks wrote off much of their Greek debt this year. — Reuters