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Greece: Coalition Hopes Fade, New Elections Loom


By Andy Dabilis

At an impasse, and unlikely to form a coalition government in the wake of elections that found parties feuding over austerity measures demanded by international lenders, Greece may have to hold new polls next month amid fears political uncertainty could jeopardise its standing in the eurozone.

The country’s major ruling parties — New Democracy Conservatives and their otherwise rival PASOK Socialists who supported pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions insisted upon by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika — were punished by voters in last week’s election. New Democracy won, but with only 18.8% of the vote, while PASOK finished third at 13.3%. PASOK lost 2.1 million voters from the 2009 elections, in which it won with 44%.

The results gave the two parties only 149 seats in the 300-member parliament. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who has flip-flopped on austerity and wanted to renegotiate the terms, was unable to form a coalition.

Nor was Alexis Tsipras, 37, the leader of the surprise second-place finisher SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left.

Tsipras wanted Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos to denounce the bailout deals with the Troika, which said another 12 billion euros in cuts must be made by the next government, and warned any attempts to tinker with reforms would lead to the money pipeline being shut off. That could force Greece into default and out of the eurozone, and upset world markets.

The last chance to form a coalition went to Venizelos on Wednesday (May 10th). He has three days to try. Failing that, Greek President Karolos Papoulias will bring the seven winners to the table to try to form a unity government. If that fails, Greeks will go to the polls again, tentatively set for June 17th.

It’s an imbroglio confounding even veteran analysts who have watched Greek governments for decades.

George Tzogopoulos, a research fellow at the Athens think tank Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), said the numbers don’t add up for any party to form a coalition, as five of the top seven parties are anti-austerity — including the sixth-place neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, the fourth-place Independent Greeks and the seventh-place Democratic Left.

“[Venizelos] has no chance to form a government,” Tzogopoulos told SETimes. “It’s hard to measure the anger of people; they feel blackmail is going on,” he said.

There’s little hope that even another election would untangle the mess. Papoulias expressed sorrow at Tsipras’ inability to form a coalition, and told state television NET that the dilemma was a “Gordian Knot” — an intractable problem.

Dimitris Hatzinikolaou, a professor of economics at the University of Ioannina in northern Greece, said it’s too late for political compromise and blamed the ruling parties.

“They are trying to deceive the people,” he told SETimes. “Greece should be asking to be out of the eurozone. This is being used as a threat. The Europeans are saying if we don’t go along with the memorandum, you will not get the next loan package, but we don’t need this money anymore.”

Dimitri Sotoripoulos, an associate professor of political science at the University of Athens and an ELIAMEP senior research fellow, said he doubts new elections could bring about a new government because of the deep divides.

“I’m afraid there will be another round of impasse,” he told SETimes. “If the small centre-right parties merge, they could have a strong force but all this instability allows possibilities for a wrong move that could lead to bankruptcy.”

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