Greece’s president meets party leaders on Sunday 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.
Voters enraged with austerity are likely to be called to the polls again as soon as mid-June, with opinion polls showing the balance of power tipping towards leftists opposed to bailouts that averted bankruptcy but deepened a devastating recession.
A week of efforts to put together a government since an inconclusive election failed because neither the pro- nor the anti-bailout camp had enough seats to rule in the hung parliament. Neither side has been willing to compromise, further exasperating voters hard pressed by tax hikes and wage cuts.
“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 Alexis Tsipras, a 37-year-old ex-Communist civil engineer who demands the EU/IMF bailout be torn up. His SYRIZA party came second a week ago, but opinion polls show it would now place first if the election is repeated, a prize that comes with a bonus of 50 extra seats in parliament.
“He’s young, I like him because at least he’s trying to renegotiate with the Europeans,” Kissou said.
EU leaders have warned that without a government that backs the 130-billion euro rescue plan agreed in March, Greece would stop getting aid and could find itself pushed out of the euro.
Parties stuck to their guns on Saturday, making any chance of an eleventh hour deal appear remote.
“Country on a dangerous path,” conservative daily Kathimerini warned on its front page. “If there isn’t, even now, the immediate rebuilding of the pro-European bloc it will be difficult to avoid a national adventure or catastrophe.”
Bailout supporters have proposed an “ecumenical government” of all parties that would try to modify the terms of the austerity pact, but SYRIZA has refused to take part.
“It is obvious that there is an effort to bring about a government that will implement the bailout. We are not participating in such a government,” SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis said on Saturday.
Another group, the more moderate Democratic Left, could have provided the pro-bailout parties with enough votes to form a cabinet but has refused to do so unless SYRIZA joins too.
President Karolos Papoulias, whose ceremonial role normally keeps him above the political fray, will meet the three biggest parties - the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK which support the bailout, along with SYRIZA - at 0900 GMT.
He will later hold individual meetings with four smaller parties that also entered parliament. In a sign of the ructions that the crisis has caused in Greek politics, for the first time those include the far right Golden Dawn, whose members give Nazi-style salutes and brandish a logo resembling a Swastika.
In one of the many sub-plots of the unfolding political drama, Greeks will be watching with interest to see how Golden Dawn are received by Papoulias, a much-revered 82-year-old veteran of the World War II anti-Nazi resistance.
The constitution sets no deadline for Papoulias to seek a deal and he has given no indication how long he will spend trying. If he fails, he will have to call a new vote in June.
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, where one in five is unemployed, and with coffers that could be empty as soon as June if no fresh cash comes from the EU and IMF.
If a new election is called, the conservative and socialist parties that dominated Greece for generations but were punished by voters for the bailout will hope that the prospect of ejection from the euro will frighten Greeks back into the fold.
But voters angry with the austerity are unrepentant and now have found a standard-bearer in Tsipras.
Backing for SYRIZA stood at 25.5 percent - almost 9 points up on its result in the election a week ago and well ahead of either of the traditional parties - according to a poll by Metron Analysis published by Epenenditis weekly.
While most Greeks oppose the bailouts, they overwhelmingly back the euro. Some 78.1 percent want the new government to do whatever it takes to keep their country in the euro, a poll by Kappa Research for To Vima daily showed.
European leaders say keeping the euro is impossible for Athens unless it sticks to the pledges to clean up its finances that it made in the bailout. Tsipras says they 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.
“Technically, it can be managed,” Irish central bank chief and European Central Bank policymaker Patrick Honohan said on Saturday, saying Greek exit would be a knock on confidence in the euro zone as a whole but would not necessarily be “fatal.”