x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Last-ditch attempts to form Greek coalition fail

Critical last-ditch talks to form a coalition government in Greece floundered once more yesterday pushing the country closer to new elections, although the socialist party leader said he retained “limited’ optimism for a deal.

ATHENS // Critical last-ditch talks to form a coalition government in Greece floundered once more yesterday pushing the country closer to new elections, although the socialist party leader said he retained “limited’ optimism for a deal.

The political uncertainty has alarmed the international creditors who have given Greece billions of euros in bailout loans over the past two years, and has thrown the country's continued presence in the European Union's joint currency into doubt.

President Karolos Papoulias convened the heads of the parties that came in the top three spots in inconclusive elections on May 6, in an ultimate effort to broker an agreement after a week of talks led to deadlock.

The meeting ended without a solution, but the process continued last night with the president meeting individually with the leaders of smaller parties that made it into parliament. Those include the extremist right-wing Golden Dawn, whose head, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, caused a furore by giving a fascist salute during an Athens city council meeting last year. The party won 7 per cent of the vote in the elections.

Voters furious at the handling of Greece's financial crisis and two years of austerity measures taken in return for billions of euros in international bailout loans punished the formerly dominant socialist Pasok and conservative New Democracy parties in the elections. The two saw their support crumble, while Radical Left Coalition, or Syriza, made big gains to come in second after campaigning on an anti-bailout platform.

The Pasok and New Democracy leaders could form a coalition with the smaller Democratic Left party of Fotis Kouvelis. Combined they would have 168 seats in the 300-member parliament. New Democracy won 18.9 per cent last Sunday while Pasok got just 13.2 per cent, compared to nearly 44 per cent in the last polls in 2009. Mr Kouvelis' 6.1 per cent put him in a kingmaker position, with 19 seats.

But all three insist any power-sharing deal must include Syriza, led by the 38-year-old Alexis Tsipras, given its strong showing at the ballot box.

Mr Tsipras, however, insists he cannot join or even lend his support to a government that will continue implementing the terms of Greece's international bailout. In return for €240 billion (Dh1.1trillion) in rescue loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Greece has imposed severe spending cuts, including slashing pensions and salaries in the public sector, and repeated rounds of tax hikes. The measures have left Greece mired in a fifth year of deep recession, with unemployment above 21 per cent.

"The three parties that have agreed on a two-year government to apply [the bailout] have 168 seats in parliament," Mr Tsipras said after the meeting. "Let them go ahead."

Mr Tsipras insists the terms of the bailout must be cancelled. the Pasok leader, Evangelos Venizelos, and the conservative head, Antonis Samaras, say that position is irresponsible and will force Greece out of the euro.

Although yesterday's meeting convened by the president with the three top party leaders was inconclusive, Mr Venizelos said that "I retain some limited but existing optimism that a government can be formed."